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The Issues Are There--but O.C. Voters Might Not Be : Elections: Political observers aren't sure whether hotly debated initiatives will spur a large turnout at the polls.


In an election year when voters say they are tired of politics as usual and negative campaigning, many candidates on Tuesday's ballot are giving the electorate more of the same.

But unlike the June primary, when voter apathy reached a 40-year high in Orange County, the ballot initiatives--not necessarily the candidates themselves--are giving voters reason to show up at the polls.

Or maybe not.

From Proposition 187, the controversial statewide ballot measure that was born in Orange County and would restrict social services and education for illegal immigrants, to the proposed plan to place a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, local voters have plenty to decide on Tuesday.

In addition to casting ballots for governor, U.S. senator and other statewide officers, local voters also will be deciding on: six congressional seats; nine state legislative posts; a county supervisor's race; 28 city council races; 13 state and local judicial posts; more than 60 school board and special district races; and 11 city measures, including a proposed $500-million development on the 121-acre Headlands promontory near Dana Point Harbor.

Still, with so much to decide, some political observers find it hard to predict whether Orange County's 1.1 million voters will vent their anger by going to the polls, or follow the mood set in the June primary and stay home.

"For all of the excitement, a majority of the people are going to stay home," UC Irvine political scientist Mark Petracca predicted, pointing to downward trends in voter turnout.

"I wouldn't be surprised, for instance, if many more people vote on Proposition 187 than the total votes cast for governor or senator. Because, yes, it's an issue that's attracting a lot of attention," Petracca said. "The question is: Is there any (candidate) left standing with any kind of dignity after it's all over? That's the tragedy."

Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald Tanney said he expects turnout to be about the same as it was in the last gubernatorial election in 1990, when 62% of the county's voters showed up at the polls.

Hoping to draw voter interest, candidates are making last-minute pitches on this final weekend before Election Day.

The Republican Party's statewide slate of candidates--featuring Gov. Pete Wilson and U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Huffington--will roll into Orange County today for a rally at the Orange County Fairgrounds starting at 2 p.m.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown, meanwhile, is scheduled to make a pitch to Vietnamese Americans this afternoon during a KWIZ-FM radio program sponsored by the Westminster-based Vietnamese Community of Southern California.

It is in Orange County where Republicans for statewide office count on a 2-to-1 vote ratio--generally about 200,000 votes more than for Democrats--to offset Democratic strongholds in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"I don't have a written goal (for turnout). I just want to make sure that our percentages are good," said John M. W. Moorlach, this year's precinct advisory committee chairman for the Orange County Republican Party.

During a recent Orange County meeting, Gov. Pete Wilson challenged local Republicans to stretch the vote margin to 250,000, Moorlach said.

For Democrats, this has not been an easy year.

The man who boosted their hopes two years ago by attracting Republican cross-over voters--President Clinton--is now in a popularity slump that is doing Orange County Democrats little good.

Clinton's only appearances in Orange County this election season were this weekend--in Los Alamitos on Friday, briefly touting a defense industry contract with U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California shortly after Air Force One landed, and in Anaheim on Saturday where he addressed a convention of realtors.

Despite the GOP's usual dominance in local elections, Democrats hope to be competitive in four state legislative and congressional districts that overlap in the central part of the county, as well as in the 45th Congressional District, where Democrat Brett Williamson is challenging Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach).

The central Orange County seats where Democrats focused their voter registration drive are: the 46th Congressional District held by Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), the redistricted 34th state Senate seat held by Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove), the 68th Assembly District represented by Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), and the 69th Assembly District held by Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove).

Umberg's decision to vacate the seat to run for state attorney general has been a perilous one for the Orange County Democratic Party, which risks losing its only local legislative seat, despite a 22-point voter registration margin over Republicans in the 69th district.

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