A group of prominent Republicans working on behalf of Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) have encouraged several GOP candidates to drop out of the upcoming special election to replace former Anaheim state Sen. John Seymour.
One candidate said the repeated calls were "intimidating," while another was offered support for a future race in return for withdrawing from the March 19 special primary that follows Seymour's recent appointment to the U.S. Senate.
The pressure has come from some of Orange County's top Republican leaders and contributors as well as elected officials in Sacramento, the targeted candidates said.
"I was told it's not my turn to run for the Senate," said Orange Councilman William G. Steiner. "The Republican Establishment and the political power brokers seem to view John Lewis as the heir apparent to Seymour's seat regardless of what the voters think. That distresses me."
Lewis said the callers were hoping to unite the party behind his candidacy to avoid a runoff and a potentially divisive intraparty battle. He also said that it is "part of the process" for party activists to try and weed out weak candidates.
"Orange County politics is kind of a closed fraternity," he said.
Many of the callers are acquainted with several candidates in the race, Lewis said. "Sometimes they are giving friendly advice. They might call and say, 'Why are you running when you don't have a chance of winning?' "
But some of the candidates were angered by the attempt to clear the field for Lewis.
"There have been great efforts to get people out of this race," said Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), one of the targeted candidates. "I don't think it's fair to voters to have these back-room deals going on so there is only one person to choose from."
Orange County Transportation Commissioner Dana Reed also acknowledged that he was encouraged to withdraw from the race.
Reed said he considered the callers to be genuinely concerned about the party's best interests. But his campaign manager, Harvey Englander, charged: "These calls were made because John Lewis is a weak candidate who has more baggage than John Wayne Airport. It's just not honest, what's going on here."
The race to replace Seymour promises to be hotly contested, with at least 11 potential candidates already expressing interest, including several well-known and viable names. Out of seven Republicans, three are state Assembly members--Allen, Lewis and Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach)--and two are city councilmen. The deadline to file for the race is Monday.
Seymour's largely Republican 35th Senate District includes the cities of Anaheim, Orange, Villa Park, Tustin, Westminster, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Fountain Valley.
The special primary is scheduled March 19. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top Republican and Democratic vote-getters will be held May 14.
Allen said she was called by "a whole bunch of people" asking her to withdraw. She also said she was offered a deal if she would bow out.
The deal was that if she did not challenge Lewis, she could count on support in a 1992 bid for state Sen. Edward R. Royce's seat. She was told that Royce (R-Anaheim) was expected to run for Rep. William Dannemeyer's seat.
Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) has announced that he plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 1992 against Seymour. Royce was unavailable Wednesday for comment.
"I had the promise made to me that I could have the Royce seat," Allen said. "They can't do that. . . . I think this stinks."
Steiner added: "Some of the calls have been intimidating, like saying flatly it's going to cost more than a half-million dollars and alluding to the fact that I was not going to be able to put together that kind of money."
Lewis said some of his supporters were hoping to avoid a runoff in May by helping him get more than 50% of the vote.
"Obviously, any of the candidates running would love it if they were the only one in the race," he said. "The more candidates you have, the more Republican dollars are spent."
Buck Johns, a prominent Orange County Republican activist and contributor, said he talked to Reed and Steiner about withdrawing from the race.
"Those of us who are involved needed to sit down and find out if (the candidates) understand what they're up against," Johns said. "It's a major undertaking, and some people don't have a grasp of the magnitude it's going to take to run."
Johns added: "Dana is very capable--he has been my attorney for a long time--and I was hoping he would not run because it just saves a lot of money. . . . Steiner is (also) a very capable guy."
Greg Haskins, executive director of the Republican Party, said he was unaware of any effort to encourage candidates not to run for the 35th Senate District. Party chairman Thomas Fuentes was unavailable for comment.