ANAHEIM — State Treasurer Kathleen Brown and state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi brought their gubernatorial campaigns on Saturday to a convention of Orange County Democrats, virtually ignoring each other and instead aiming their fire at Gov. Pete Wilson.
In a straw poll taken throughout the day, Brown beat Garamendi by a margin of 140 votes to 114. The third Democrat in the race, state Sen. Tom Hayden of Santa Monica, did not attend the meeting, but received 27 votes.
The convention of about 500 Orange County Democrats served as a pep rally for the political party that is seeking to build momentum in a county controlled by the Republican Party, which holds an 18-point voter registration margin over Democrats.
Leading off a forum for statewide candidates, Brown said that until Wilson faced the pressure of an election year, the governor did not fight the migration of California jobs to other states, that he cut education funding without trying to improve schools, and that he "talks tough on crime at the front door while he lets dangerous parolees out the back door."
Californians, she said, do not feel safer and do not feel more economic security than they did before Wilson took office.
"And that's why we need a change from the Rip Van Wilson who's been sleeping and slumbering for the last three years in the governor's office," Brown told the delegates.
Garamendi, who has attracted attention in local communities throughout the state by "working" side-by-side with everyday workers such as jailers, teachers and factory workers, said Wilson "does not have a clue, does not have the foggiest understanding of what's taking place" on issues such as worker safety and California's choked transportation system.
Garamendi grew more passionate as he spoke about health care. His own plan for California, which has never been approved, served as the basis for President Clinton's health-care plan that has run into a firestorm of criticism.
"When I hear after 25 years of my crusade to establish a national health plan, when I hear the Republicans say to me that there's no health crisis, oh boy, I'm telling you, we are in for a fight," Garamendi said. "We will have a national health plan that provides health care to every single American, and it will be done."
Earlier in the day, state Democratic Party Chairman Bill Press urged Orange County Democrats to help "get rid of that cruel and that cold and that callous, incompetent and poor excuse for a governor named Pete Wilson."
The Democratic candidates for state attorney general also spoke to the convention and were included in the straw poll.
Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove) received 201 votes and San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith, who narrowly lost the 1992 general election to Republican Dan Lungren, garnered 75 votes from the local Democrats.
Convention organizers said the meeting should serve as a reminder to Democratic statewide candidates that Orange County should not be ignored--that Democrats here can cut into the huge margins that statewide Republican candidates often rely on to carry them over the top.
"Our goal is to diminish (Republican) influence," former Orange County Democratic Chairman Howard Adler said. "Orange County is their base. They have to win big here. To the point that we can diminish that, it helps Democrats win statewide."
Having increased their party's vote totals against Republicans during the 1992 election, Orange County Democrats have set their sights on defeating conservative Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
Local party leaders are also going after two other central Orange County legislative seats where Democrats have high registration numbers: the 34th Senate District where Republican state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) is seeking re-election, and the 68th District Assembly seat now held by Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove).
The task will not be easy for the Democrats, who risk losing the only local legislative seat they now hold: in Umberg's 69th Assembly District. The Republicans have vowed to go after that seat.
Dornan, a 16-year incumbent, recently announced he would seek one final term to the 46th Congressional District, and Democrats believe that may be their best shot for a new legislative seat. Democrats outnumber Republicans in that district with 47% of the registered voters, compared to 42% for Republicans.
But part of the Democrats' problem in that district may be their own June 7 primary, which features a wide-open field of largely unknown candidates, many political novices.
The Democratic field widened Saturday when Madelene E. Arakelian, the owner of a trash hauling firm, announced she would be a candidate in the 46th Congressional District instead of running for the Board of Supervisors as she had originally planned.