In last June's Democratic primary, Rep. Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez (D-Monterey Park) routed an opponent who had flooded the 30th Congressional District with mailers portraying him as sleazy and inept.
That sort of personal attack has been absent so far in the general election campaign, but Ralph R. Ramirez, the Republican nominee, is counting on voters to remember the Democratic primary and the scathing charges it produced.
Going door to door in an Alhambra neighborhood recently, Ramirez introduced himself to an elderly voter, noted he was running against Martinez and asked: "Have you heard about Marty?"
The man looked down, smiled slightly and said: "I've heard quite a few things about him."
Ramirez did not inquire about what the man had heard or offer any opinion of his own, but hurried on to the next house after asking the man to remember to vote on Election Day.
Voters Heard It All
Ramirez said he doesn't need to say anything negative about Martinez; voters heard it all in the primary.
"The public is very well informed," he said. "When I go door to door, they bring it up. I don't have to bring it up."
In the June primary, former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Chen accused Martinez of misusing office funds, abusing his staff, taking holiday trips at taxpayer expense with a "girlfriend," and other misdeeds. Martinez denied all the charges, called Chen "a sick woman" and defeated her by an overwhelming margin.
He said that if voters had believed the charges, "I wouldn't have won 75% of the vote."
The contest between Ramirez and Martinez has generated surprisingly few sparks so far, even though Republicans regard it as one of their few chances in California to oust an incumbent Democrat. Ramirez has tried to goad Martinez into meeting him in debate and has assailed his record in Congress, but Martinez has hardly bothered to respond.
Both candidates are running as mainstream representatives of their parties: a conservative Republican against a liberal Democrat. That approach would seem to benefit Martinez, since Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 30th Congressional District nearly 2 to 1.
But the district, which is heavily Latino and largely blue collar, is full of Reagan Democrats. In 1984, President Reagan carried the district with more than 55% of the vote, and 2 years ago Republican Gov. George Deukmejian polled 52% of the vote.
Because Martinez is seen as vulnerable, Ramirez was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention and has received $45,000 in donations and services from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Last week, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) told Ramirez supporters at a breakfast meeting in San Gabriel that their candidate is one of the top two or three Republican challengers in the nation and said: "I think he has a wonderful opportunity."
Meanwhile, the day after Kemp spoke for Ramirez, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) visited the Montebello Senior Citizens Center to urge the reelection of Martinez and stump for the national Democratic ticket. Speaking to nearly 400 senior citizens, Kennedy and Martinez drew cheers by stressing the need to enlarge the government's health-care coverage for the elderly.
Martinez, 59, was born in Colorado but has lived most of his life in California. He was running an upholstery shop in Monterey Park when he became involved in local politics, winning election to the City Council in 1974.
In 1980, he scored an upset victory in the Democratic primary for an Assembly seat over 16-year incumbent Jack Fenton. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City), who was then in the Assembly and trying to win the speakership, poured money and political expertise into the Martinez campaign.
Since then, Martinez has benefitted from the Westside political organization of Berman and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles). The three congressmen donated $8,000 to Martinez's campaign early this year.
Martinez would not say how much he expects to spend on his reelection effort, but the primary campaign cost more than $200,000. Ramirez, who spent more than $100,000 in defeating two rivals in the Republican primary, said he expects to spend $300,000 in the general election.
This will be the second time that Martinez and Ramirez have faced each other in the district, which includes Alhambra, Azusa, El Monte, Irwindale, Monterey Park, Rosemead, South San Gabriel, part of San Gabriel and the Southeast cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Maywood, Montebello and Vernon.
Martinez narrowly defeated Ramirez in a special election in 1982 to choose a successor to Rep. George Danielson, who gave up his seat for a judicial appointment. The special election to fill the remaining few months of Danielson's term was an unusual one, coming in the middle of a larger battle for a full two-year term between Martinez and John Rousselot, a veteran Republican congressman who had lost his own district through reapportionment.