Republicans Susan Brooks and Ron Florance are running for a seat that stretches from Venice to San Pedro, but their battle for the 36th Congressional District has been waged almost entirely in their own back yards: the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The Republican contenders live just a few miles apart, share some of the same acquaintances and travel in some of the same social circles. But in the campaign that culminates with Tuesday's primary, they have been bitter rivals.
Florance, 59, a former Palos Verdes Estates city councilman, is seen by opponents as a good-old-boy Republican, financing much of his campaign with the real estate riches he made in the 1980s.
Brooks, 44, a city councilwoman from Rancho Palos Verdes, is characterized by her rival as a political opportunist who had grand designs on higher office even before she gained a spot on the City Council.
Who's right? It might not matter come November, when the winner will face incumbent Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina del Rey), who has no opposition in the primary. Although the district's voter registration is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Harman has been able to shore up her support among top aerospace executives in the district while Brooks and Florence have battled.
The tenor of the Brooks-Florence faceoff also should help Harman.
"The dirtier it is (in the primary), it's always tougher to kiss and make up," said Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Steve Kuykendall, a Republican who is running for state Assembly but has not endorsed either congressional candidate. "No matter what anyone else says, this stuff is very personal.
Besides Harman, incumbents whose congressional districts encompass parts of the South Bay are Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach), Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). In Tuesday's vote, Waters is unopposed, while Horn and Tucker face underfinanced challengers.
In the GOP race to take on Harman in the fall, Brooks and Florance are united in their attacks on the incumbent, such as her support of President Clinton's budget plan last year.
But the harmony ends there.
Brooks has attacked Florance as a tight-fisted millionaire. Her most recent allegation: that he may make money off of his own campaign. Florance lent his campaign $150,000, but is charging the campaign the prime interest rate.
"What is he running? A campaign or a bank?" she said.
Florance said his lawyers advised him to place the interest rate on the loan. "If you make a loan, you charge interest," Florance said. "Otherwise it is not a loan."
Common Cause, a group that monitors campaign ethics, says charging interest on a campaign loan is legal although many candidates make interest-free loans. Besides, Florance said, he doubts that the campaign will ever be able to pay him back.
Brooks' campaign also points out 40 lawsuits involving Florance or one of his businesses over the last nine years. Florance, however, said that he went to trial only once, and his side prevailed. He called other lawsuits frivolous, often filed against Carriage Realty, the real estate company he owned from 1982 to 1988.
Florance says he has a list of successful entrepreneurial ventures, dating to his youth in Hollywood in the 1940s. As a child, he collected cooking grease from neighbors and lugged it to markets, where they paid him wartime ration money.
In the 1950s, as an executive at Proctor & Gamble, his management group tested and then introduced what is now Jif peanut butter. He was the top manager at two major brokerage firms in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, he and the Ernest W. Hahn Co. developed the Shops at Palos Verdes. The partnership also donated land and money to build the Norris Theatre.
In real estate, he displayed a keen sense of timing--an instinct that has made him wealthy. His mansion, a Mediterranean-style villa that overlooks Santa Monica Bay, was designed by architect Bob Williams. The view is so spectacular that he jokes he will be able to make speeches to the entire district from his balcony.
"I've been around the horn," Florance said of his experience. "(Brooks has) questioned my ethics, but I have nothing to be ashamed of."
In fact, Florance's campaign has turned the attacks around, characterizing Brooks as a political opportunist prone to make reckless charges before checking the facts.
"It shows . . . how much she has to learn if she goes to Congress," Florance said.
Florance points to Brooks' move up the political ladder. Her switch to the Republican Party in 1989, he said, was a politically expedient move in a Republican-leaning district.
On the City Council last fall, Brooks voted against a utility tax to finance the upkeep of streets and roads, even though she had earlier supported the measure. The tax, she said, should have gone to a vote of the people.