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Palm Latitudes

Body Politic

May 12, 1991|Tom Waldman and caption: | Edited by Mary McNamara

It happens all the time: Someone approaches Assemblyman Tom Umberg at a social gathering, checks to make sure that no one is looking and whispers, "My daughter married a Democrat," or "I was a Democrat once." The 35-year-old Umberg simply smiles. Such is life for the only Democrat representing Orange County.

Even the folks in Sacramento don't quite know what to make of him. At least twice this spring, a guard, noting the Orange County pin on Umberg's suit, automatically directed him to the Republican Assembly caucus. Sometimes it works to his advantage. Recently, Umberg received a confidential GOP analysis of a pending bill, which he returned only when he was "good and ready."

In Orange County, Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 55% to 28%. Umberg's district--which includes Garden Grove, Anaheim, Westminster, Santa Ana, Stanton and Midway City--is represented in Congress by Robert Dornan and William Dannemeyer, two of its most right-wing members.

Last fall, the Orange County GOP, fearful of losing its perfect record, asked old friend Ronald Reagan to boost incumbent Curt Pringle's campaign. Despite public opposition from one of the most popular presidents, Umberg defeated Pringle in the 72nd Assembly District race by 1,800 votes. He was helped by Pringle's unpopularity, especially within the Latino community. All the same, Umberg's is a conservative group of Democrats--the average voter in his district backed all the other Republican candidates in the election.

So, unless reapportionment drastically changes Orange County's political map, Umberg can expect another tough campaign next year. Optimistically, he believes that his service in Sacramento will overcome the Democrat stigma. "This time," Umberg says, "I can rely on my record and integrity."

He better be right. Because next time, the Republicans might bring Reagan, President Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf to town.

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