Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana) insists he is not taking his race in Tuesday's primary against West Hollywood businessman Val Marmillion for granted. But until this week, it appeared he viewed Marmillion as the equivalent of a political fly: more buzz than bite.
Beilenson has unleashed a flurry of campaign letters and leaflets to registered Democrats this past week to counter Marmillion's waves of brochures. For the incumbent, the mailings represent the first significant campaign activity as he seeks nomination to a seventh term.
Reinforcing his renown as a political maverick, Beilenson held no fund-raisers, press conferences or campaign events in his affluent, moderately Democratic 23rd District. His paid campaign staff consists of one consultant, and he sent out no mailings until last week.
On the other hand, Marmillion, a political unknown, is spending about $130,000 and has knocked on hundreds of doors while fielding a volunteer army of 300 and seeking to build a grass-roots coalition of interest groups from gays to animal rights activists to feminists. His campaign also sent an unusually detailed 36-page issues booklet to 100,000 households.
Yet Beilenson, who generally wins reelection by large margins, is heavily favored to thwart Marmillion's insurgent bid. The 23rd is not considered one of the state's most hotly contested races.
'People Know Him'
"If Tony Beilenson were an unknown or a new congressman, maybe we'd be more concerned about the discrepancy in spending," said Craig Miller, Beilenson's campaign consultant. "Over the years, people in his district have come to know him, trust him and appreciate the kind of independent leadership he provides. That's the kind of popularity that money can't buy."
Marmillion, meanwhile, insists that Beilenson's success is a product of political inertia rather than popularity. He says his campaign's aggressive door-to-door stumping--reaching 100,000 households, some two and three times--will lead to victory. Neither campaign has done any public-opinion polling.
If he succeeds, Marmillion will win more than a stunning political upset: he will make history. He will be the first openly homosexual candidate to be elected to Congress as a freshman. Two members, Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry E. Studds, both Massachusetts Democrats, disclosed their homosexuality after they were in office.
Moreover, Marmillion would be the first candidate in at least a decade to knock off an incumbent California congressman not discredited by a scandal. Nationwide, only six incumbent members of Congress lost in 1986.
Viewed at Thoughtful
Beilenson, 55, is banking on his reputation as a thoughtful lawmaker who has sought money for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, warned early and often about the skyrocketing federal deficit and opposed President Reagan's Star Wars initiative and military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras . He has represented parts of the district in the state Legislature and Congress for 26 years and is supported by the party establishment.
In a low-key letter to registered Democrats last week, Beilenson also noted he is one of a handful of House members who won't take campaign contributions from single-interest political action committees. His campaign has stepped up its activity with several mailings in the last week but still expects to spend a modest $75,000 or so.
"Instead of running a campaign financed by special interests, I'm relying on my record of service and on the support of individual voters," Beilenson wrote to voters.
Marmillion, 37, has sought to make an issue of Beilenson's low-profile campaign. He charges it reflects the incumbent's failure to return to California often enough and to be a leader on local issues. Beilenson is "out of step, out of touch and out of town," Marmillion says.
To underline this point, Marmillion's recent campaign leaflets include a sketch of a figure under a magnifying glass with a question mark for its face. Beneath the drawing are the words: "Who Is Your Congressman?"
Gas Tax Criticized
Marmillion also has highlighted Beilenson's proposal to boost federal gasoline taxes 25 cents a gallon and some of his votes on Social Security and veterans issues in a bid to convince major voter groups that the incumbent doesn't represent their interests. Even when he does not differ with Beilenson's votes--such as on AIDS-related issues--Marmillion claims Beilenson hasn't been outspoken or active enough.
Marmillion is an ex-congressional aide and highly respected Louisiana campaign consultant who co-founded a public relations and marketing firm in Westwood that he recently sold to the Olgilvy & Mather advertising company. He has been active in the Los Angeles artistic community.