For more than 25 years, real estate broker Paula Boland of Northridge has been a grunt for the Republican Party.
When Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964, she stuffed envelopes for his campaign. When Bobbi Fiedler ran for Congress in 1980, she staffed phone banks and walked precincts on election day.
As GOP candidates for offices from city council to President made speeches and basked in applause, Boland worked in the trenches for them, making coffee, running errands and planting campaign signs in neighbors' lawns.
Now the conservative Boland, 50, wants to take a quantum leap in party ranks. She is running for the 38th Assembly District seat held by Assemblywoman Marian La Follette (R-Northridge), who is retiring.
Boland's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election is Irene Allert, an educational consultant from Kagel Canyon who is an executive committee member of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.
But political observers say Allert, 46, is a long shot in the upscale, conservative district, which arcs across the San Fernando Valley from Hidden Hills to La Crescenta. With Republicans holding a 48% to 42% registration edge over Democrats, the seat is considered a safe one for the GOP.
The district has been held for 10 years by La Follette, a conservative who dispatched her most recent Democratic opponent, Mark Lit, by nearly 65% to 35% in 1988. Boland also holds a large lead over Allert in fund raising, taking in $102,000 to Allert's $43,000 in the reporting period that ended Oct. 5.
Boland and Allert have sharply differing positions on several major issues, but the one that has generated the most heat so far is abortion. Boland opposes abortion rights and Allert supports them.
The race marks the first time that two women Assembly candidates with opposing views on abortion rights have faced off in a general election since last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services. The ruling gave states more latitude to restrict abortions.
Allert has received thousands of dollars in contributions from the National Women's Political Caucus, the California Nurses Assn. and other groups favoring abortion rights. Boland has received money from the National Right to Life Committee and is backed by James C. Dobson of Arcadia, host of the daily "Focus on the Family" radio shows and a leading spokesman for the religious right.
"In terms of legislative races, this is the hottest one between two women," said Robin Schneider, executive director of the California Abortion Rights Action League, which backs Allert.
Boland's campaign also is being closely watched by Assembly Republican Leader Ross Johnson of Fullerton, who sponsored a Sacramento fund-raiser for Boland in August and attended another in Granada Hills last week. Her election would help Johnson, a fellow conservative, cement his hold on the leadership job, which comes up for a vote immediately after the November election.
The daughter of a barber and a beautician who emigrated from Italy, Boland is a diminutive, strong-willed woman who has been heavily involved in local civic and small-business activities for years.
A onetime model at local dress shops and charity shows, Boland ran the Miss Granada Hills beauty pageant for 13 years. She has served on a review board that interviewed potential recruits for the Los Angeles Police Department and is a board member of a Granada Hills bank.
Boland was active in Bus Stop, a group which opposed mandatory school busing in the 1970s, and has been closely involved with efforts to make the Valley a separate city from Los Angeles. She was appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich as a member of the county Local Agency Formation Commission, an influential agency that oversees city incorporations and annexations.
Her campaign is supported by some of the Valley's best known GOP conservatives. Former Rep. Fiedler, a close friend, has raised money for her, and wealthy car dealer Bert Boeckmann shares the chairmanship of Boland's campaign with his wife, Jane, publisher of Valley magazine.
Allert, who describes herself as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, is a carpenter's daughter who attended the now-defunct Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles before becoming a junior high school teacher. She operates a firm that refers science and health teachers and supplies educational materials to public and private schools.
Among the groups endorsing her are the National Organization for Women and the California AFL-CIO. The bulk of her campaign contributions have come from labor unions, groups favoring abortion rights and local Democratic clubs.
Allert's campaign consultant, Parke Skelton, said that to beat Boland, Allert must win at least 10,000 crossover votes from Republicans. The campaign is telephoning every Republican in the district to identify potential crossover voters, he said.