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ELECTIONS / CONGRESS 24TH DISTRICT : GOP Targets Beilenson in His Bid for a 10th Term

October 02, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — With five weeks left before the election, House minority leader Newt Gingrich on Saturday said attorney Richard Sybert's bid to unseat U. S. Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) is one of the top priorities of the national Republican Party.

The combative Georgia legislator made his remarks after he helped Sybert, a former Cabinet officer in Gov. Pete Wilson's Administration, raise more than $25,000 for his campaign during an event at the sprawling Lake Sherwood estate of automobile mogul Robert Nesen.

"Rich Sybert is going to get the maximum support possible from us," Gingrich said in an interview after the fund-raiser. That support will amount to more than $60,000 in direct and so-called coordinated campaign money contributed by the national party to the Sybert campaign, Gingrich said.

Gingrich's presence Saturday further confirmed how the national GOP is targeting Beilenson, who is seeking his 10th term to a seat that represents Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Malibu and the Conejo Valley.

Others scheduled to headline Sybert fund-raisers before the Nov. 8 election are U. S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), the GOP minority leader in the Senate and a 1996 presidential hopeful, actor Charlton Heston and Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Two Cabinet secretaries from the Ronald Reagan Administration--Jack Kemp and Edward Bennett--were in Woodland Hills last month to help Sybert raise money. In the primary, Sybert, who was formerly a partner in a major downtown Los Angeles law firm, contributed more than $400,000 of his personal assets to the campaign.

"This is a race that is clearly winnable for Sybert," Gingrich said. That's the case in no small measure because of the deepening unpopularity of the Clinton Administration's policies, he said. Because of Clinton, Beilenson "is like a swimmer with a 40-pound weight on his leg," Gingrich said.

Gingrich also said Saturday that he had just reviewed a poll taken in August by Arnie Steinberg, Sybert's pollster, that shows Sybert leading Beilenson "by eight or nine points."

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Sybert campaign manager James Vaughn confirmed the numbers but said they were achieved only after pollsters had asked a series of "what if" questions that mapped out how the Sybert campaign plans to characterize its candidate and Beilenson.

"This is the year when Democratic incumbents who have been in Washington for a long time and are affiliated with the Clinton Administration are in big trouble," Gingrich said.

Beilenson has shown some independence from the Democratic leadership, but he is still part of the Democratic machine, Gingrich said. "Don't kid yourself," Gingrich said, "you don't get on the House Rules Committee unless you are part of the machine."

Beilenson is the third highest-ranking Democratic member of the Rules Committee, the powerful panel that serves as a traffic cop for legislation.

Sybert has previously accused Beilenson of using his Rules Committee post to quash GOP-crafted legislation to curtail illegal immigration and toughen the nation's fight against crime.

Meanwhile, Beilenson's campaign called Gingrich's visit the latest demonstration of how Sybert's campaign is being artificially propped up by outside Republican personalities and money.

"Rich Sybert has no inherent support in the community; he is not from the community, and in fact he tried to run in (another) congressional district before settling on this one," said Craig Miller, Beilenson's top political consultant, responding Saturday to Gingrich's visit. "It's a campaign that is heavily dependent on Republican politicians."

Sybert first moved into Beilenson's 24th District about a year ago. Earlier he had contemplated running against fellow Republican Carlos Moorhead, the congressman from the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena area, but was finally dissuaded from doing so by GOP leaders. Sybert has previously lived in Pasadena, and still owns a home there.

Despite such criticism, Miller said he expected the national Democratic Party to give Beilenson its full financial support.

Miller questioned the accuracy of the Sybert poll numbers but said the Beilenson campaign had done no polling of its own. "Polls are for politicians like Sybert who do not understand this district," Miller said.

About 50 guests, including actor Tom Selleck, paid $500 each on Saturday to have brunch at Nesen's estate in Lake Sherwood and hear Gingrich give a pitch for Sybert. Nesen is one of Ventura County's biggest car dealers. His Nesen Motor Car Co. Inc. sells a number of brands, from Rolls-Royces to Hyundais.

"We've got to get rid of those liberals," Nesen said later outside his home, a palatial structure crammed with political memorabilia. Nesen was the U. S. ambassador to Australia in the Reagan Administration.

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Sybert's campaign manager said the Nesen event raised more than $25,000 for Sybert. The proceeds included an unexpected $1,000 check from Gingrich's own campaign committee and a $2,000 check from the National Restaurant Owner Assn.'s political action committee.

Later, Gingrich spoke at a fund-raiser at the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills for U. S. Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), where about 150 guests paid $100 each to hear the tough-talking Gingrich, a former history professor, lash out against the Clinton Administration. McKeon is expected to have an easy time of besting his Democratic challenger, James Gilmartin, a Palmdale attorney. In 1992, it was Gilmartin who McKeon defeated to win his first term in Congress.

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