Forget liberal. As the campaign for Tuesday's special state Assembly election shows clearly, the dirty word in Orange County politics is moderate.
"Everybody runs in Orange County as a conservative Republican," said Mickey R. Conroy, a GOP front-runner in the race against Republican William G. Steiner and five other candidates seeking to replace former state Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) in the 67th District.
"You've seen a struggle between Conroy and Steiner about who is more anti-tax and who is more conservative," said Steiner, a city councilman in Orange. "I'm hoping the voters will be able to sort through all that."
It's a messy pile to sort through, but those who do will find that front-runners Steiner and Conroy are strikingly different candidates. The mail to voters and the public statements have been similar in issues and tough talk, but the candidates' motivations for seeking public office spring from vastly different philosophies.
Steiner, 54, comes to government full of ideas about how public policy can make life better for the abused and neglected children that he has served throughout his 31-year career, most recently working as director of the Orangewood Children's Foundation since 1986.
"I've seen a lot of tragedy in connection with Orangewood. Sometimes you feel like you are shoveling sand upstream because the problems are so enormous," Steiner said. "But in the last few years, I have found a lot that can be achieved for children from a political perspective. That's really the essence of my candidacy."
Conroy, on the other hand, proclaims government to be the enemy. He said his top priority as a legislator would be to launch a search-and-destroy committee of elected officials to ferret out government waste. He believes service in the Legislature should be a part-time job.
And even on issues like the environment, Conroy says the problems should be corrected without government involvement.
"Remember Valdez (Alaska)? What happened?" he asks. "Nature cures itself. We're bringing our economy to its knees over people who think we should live in a risk-free society."
Tuesday's special election is part of a series of Orange County campaigns sparked by Gov. Pete Wilson's decision in January to appoint former Anaheim state Sen. John Seymour to the U.S. Senate.
Lewis was elected last May to fill Seymour's seat in the state Senate, triggering the current special election to fill Lewis' seat in the Assembly.
The 67th Assembly District is the second-most Republican in California and it includes all or most of the cities of Orange, Tustin, Silverado Canyon, El Toro and Santa Ana.
In addition to Steiner and Conroy, the field of candidates seeking the seat includes four other Republicans: Villa Park Councilman Harold H. Saldarini; former Tustin Councilman John Kelly; Tracy Gaffey, a college professor from Tustin and Bill Earl, a Tustin businessman. The sole Democrat in the race is Gregory Robert Ramsay, a health care manager from Santa Ana.
If nobody receives more than 50% of the vote in Tuesday's election, Ramsay will face the top Republican vote-getter in a Sept. 17 runoff.
Steiner and Conroy have broken from the pack of candidates, largely based on their influential endorsements and their ability to raise money.
Steiner is backed by all of the mayors represented in the Assembly district and all five county supervisors. Conroy, 63, is supported by conservative Orange County leaders such as Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) and Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton).
But the rest of the candidates also represent a variety of political profiles. On abortion, three candidates support a woman's right to have an abortion and four are opposed. There was a similar split on the issue of whether the state should adopt AB-101, a law to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.
As in most special elections, voter turnout is expected to be extremely low Tuesday, probably less than 15% of the registered voters.
Voters in the 67th Assembly District go to the polls Tuesday to fill a vacant seat created when John R. Lewis was elected to the state Senate in May.
Seven candidates are running in the special election. If no one receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top vote-getters from each party will be held Sept. 17.
The Republican candidates are: Mickey R. Conroy, a GOP activist from Santa Ana; Orange Councilman William G. Steiner; former Tustin Councilman John Kelly; Villa Park Councilman Harold H. Saldarini; Tustin businessman Bill Earl, and Tustin educator Tracy Gaffey.
The lone Democrat is Gregory Robert Ramsay, a health care manager from Santa Ana.
The district is one of the most Republican in California. It stretches from Silverado Canyon in the east to Orange in the west and from Yorba Linda in the north to El Toro in the south.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.