If all he cares about is votes, Vice President George Bush has nothing to fear when Orange County's top executives enter the voting booth in November.
The Republican nominee-apparent got the nod from 58% of the local business leaders asked to identify their 1988 White House favorite in The Times executive outlook poll.
However, the voices behind those votes tell a somewhat different story. Follow-up interviews discerned little fervor for the man who would be Presdient.
"If there was anyone else I thought would be qualified, I'd vote for someone else," said Earl V. Nellesen, president of The Earl's Plumbing chain in Anaheim. "Being a strong Republican, I have to support Bush."
When it comes to presidential preference, Nellesen is an emblem of the Orange County executive--Republican to the bone, conservative in business dealings and private life and disturbed that he has to vote for someone he perceives to be lacking in leadership.
Nellesen is reluctant, grudging, but stuck, he said.
"Who else do we have?" he asked. "If Reagan were running again, I'd vote for him. If Pat Robertson were on the ballot, I'd probably vote for him."
The Times executive outlook survey was distributed March 14, soon enough after Super Tuesday to have dealt former religious broadcaster Robertson and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole a death blow, but before the two men had pulled out of the race for the GOP nomination.
Too soon, in fact, for the presidential field to have narrowed to the three candidates actively campaigning today: Republican Bush and Democrats Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The survey results reflected some ambivalence about this year's presidential race. While executive loyalty to Reagan seems to have translated into support for his vice president, "undecided" took second place with 26% of total responses.
Dole came in third with 8%; Dukakis had 3%, and Jackson got 1%. An assortment of other Republicans and Democrats received a combined total of 4%.
Subsequent interviews indicated somewhat more support for Dukakis than was apparent in the survey results. Many of the undecided executives--and a number of the grudging Bush supporters--professed a leaning toward the Massachusetts governor.
That's something of a surprise, considering Orange County's reputation as one of the most stalwart Republican areas in the country. According to July, 1987, voter registration figures, the county is 54% Republican and 35% Democrat. In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan captured a whopping 73% of the Orange County vote, while Walter Mondale limped in with a mere 24%.
"Because I'm a Republican, I probably said Bush on the survey," said Ronald M. Izumita, president of Process Oriented Design, a Santa Ana architecture, landscape and design firm. "I kind of like the Democratic candidate (Dukakis), though. I might cross the line if I felt what he had to offer would not threaten my livelihood."
Lauro Torres, director of operations for Bell & Howell Columbia Paramount Video Services, said he is "opting for a change" in the White House and supports Dukakis. To Torres, Dukakis "seems like a fairly intelligent individual. He has the experience of running state government and credentials that would provide appropriate resources for him."
While Jackson's 1% showing in the executive outlook survey is hardly spectacular, it surprised Sadie Reid-Benham, a longtime Democratic activist here and a coordinator for the Jackson campaign in the 38th Congressional District.
"I'm a little astonished," Reid-Benham said. "I would probably have to say that they would be people commuting into Orange County. (Our support) is coming primarily out of Los Angeles."
But not all of it. Dan Millstein, vice president and general manager of California Shutters in Orange, said he is drawn to Jackson because of the peace issue.
"It's time that somebody did something," Millstein said. "Do you want to go to war?"
Arthur Powell, president of Southern States Financial Group and Endo-Americal Oil Co. in Laguna Beach, has even more fundamental reasons to vote for Jackson.
"Jesse is saying things today that this country needs to hear," said Powell, a south county Jackson activist. "He was speaking about drugs before it was a catchword, fighting drugs when it was not in vogue. We're shooting for the top seat come June 7."
That's not to say that Bush doesn't have a few real admirers here. Take Dale Dykema, for example.
A registered Republican and president of TD Service Financial in Orange, Dykema said that he has been a George Bush supporter ever since the race began.
"I think that . . . he has by far the most experience of any of the remaining candidates in the race. I've felt that way all along."
A March 14 survey by The Times reflected a translation of loyalty by Orange County CEOs from Ronald Reagan to his vice president.
CEOs Vote for All With in '88 CEOs Opinions Bush 58% 79% Dole 8 10 Other GOP 2 3 Dukakis 3 4 Jackson 1 1 Other Dem. 2 3 Don't know 26 --