The Republican Senate primary race between Maggie Vineyard and Donald Knabe has remained a quiet prelude to the 33rd District's main event in November, when the victor will take on Democratic incumbent Cecil Green.
While Knabe is out-campaigning and greatly outspending Vineyard, he is doing so with an eye to the general election.
"I see our battle as against Cecil Green," said Knabe, a former Cerritos councilman who is the chief of staff for Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana. "There's very little philosophical difference between Maggie and myself. It's basically a matter of putting our credentials before the Republican voters and letting them decide who they want to carry the banner against Cecil Green."
Whoever clinches the nomination is expected to have an uphill battle against Green, a former Norwalk councilman who won the 33rd District seat last year in a special election remembered as the most expensive contest in state Senate history.
The primaries in the Southeast area's other Senate districts are also relatively low key. In the heavily Democratic 27th District, represented by Democratic Sen. Bill Greene of Los Angeles, Republicans Victor L. Brown and Johnnie G. Neely are amiably competing for their party's nomination. Janice Lynn Graham and Stan Caress are waging low-budget efforts for the Democratic nomination in Republican William Campbell's 31st Senate District, which stretches into Orange County.
Issues have received scant attention in the Knabe-Vineyard primary. "I have no idea how (Knabe) feels on any of the issues," conceded Vineyard, a Hawaiian Gardens business owner and former councilwoman.
Both candidates have campaigned before for the district's seat, which represents Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, Sante Fe Springs, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, and Bellflower, along with five Orange County cities.
Knabe briefly ran in the primary for last year's special election. But he withdrew after party leaders pressured him not to engage in a divisive primary race with Assemblyman Wayne Grisham, who was later defeated by Green. Vineyard says she, too, wanted to enter the primary but deferred to Grisham.
In 1984, Vineyard was the district's GOP nominee, making a strong but ultimately unsuccessful challenge against Democratic Sen. Paul Carpenter. Carpenter left the Senate last year when he was elected to the state Board of Equalization, setting the stage for the special election.
As of last week, Vineyard said she had spent only $107, compared to about $75,000 spent by Knabe.
"I'm not one to take any chances," Knabe explained, saying he was trying to build name recognition in preparation for the November election.
Knabe has hired the Orange County political consulting firm of Buchanan & Campbell, opened a campaign headquarters in an Artesia shopping center, sent out mailers and organized phone calls to spread his name around the district.
His financial supporters include businessmen, developers and Supervisor Dana, who has contributed $5,000 to Knabe's campaign.
Vineyard, declining to predict how much she will spend in the final days before Tuesday's primary, says Knabe's level of spending is inappropriate for a primary contest.
While Knabe stresses his political experience as Dana's chief of staff, Vineyard argues that Knabe's Los Angeles job takes him outside the Senate district. As owner of a Hawaiian Gardens muffler shop and president of the Hawaiian Gardens Chamber of Commerce, Vineyard says, she spends her days inside the district and is thus more familiar with it.
Moreover, she contends that Knabe, the 44-year-old father of two boys, has no business pursuing a legislative position that will take him away from home for much of the week. Vineyard's children are grown.
Vineyard, 56, also argues that the legislature needs more women. "We need to be represented," she says.
Caress, who ran unsuccessfully against Campbell in the 31st District in 1984, is a political science lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, who sees the campaign trail as a kind of living laboratory.
Caress, 37, did political research for state Controller Gray Davis in 1986 when Davis defeated Campbell for the controller's job. He said he has stockpiled material about Campbell's voting record that he would use against the senator in the fall campaign.
But with just 37% of the district's voters calling themselves Democrats, compared to 54% Republicans, Caress acknowledges that any Democrat who hopes to unseat Campbell faces a tough fight.
"Realistically, my function is to hold the legislator accountable, to make him realize there are people keeping tabs on his voting record," said Caress, a West Covina resident since 1955.