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LOS ANGELES TIMES POLL : O.C. Republicans Forget Their Differences With Wilson : County gives the governor a huge margin despite feelings of many that the state is on the wrong track. His hard line on crime and backing of Proposition 187 help.


It was hard to tell from Tuesday's balloting that Orange County voters ever had any political differences with Gov. Pete Wilson. The incumbent solidly reaffirmed his GOP base while also capturing blocs of local moderates and even voters who identified themselves as liberals, a Los Angeles Times Poll found.

In an election in which local voters said the issues of immigration, taxes and crime guided their voting decisions, Wilson's campaign emphasis on crime and Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative, apparently paid off, despite a belief by voters that the affairs of the state are "seriously on the wrong track."

But while Wilson was able to win voters across most of Orange County's political spectrum, Mike Huffington, the Republican running for the U.S. Senate, apparently fared less well, according to results of the poll, in which 1,306 voters were questioned Tuesday as they emerged from the voting booths.

With thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted, it was unclear whether Huffington's local vote ratio over Democratic incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein would reach the 30-point mark traditionally needed by Republicans to go over the top statewide. Unofficial returns Wednesday showed Huffington leading Feinstein by 27 points in Orange County.

Orange County Republican Party Chairman Thomas Fuentes said Wilson--who beat Democrat Kathleen Brown by 41 points in local balloting compared to 15 points statewide--performed better than Huffington because he is better known.

"I think you have to recognize that the Feinstein name has been around a long time," Fuentes said. "Huffington is a new name on the political front. I think he can be very proud of those numbers."

On Proposition 187, voting in Orange County was polarized along ethnic lines, as in the rest of the state. Seven of 10 whites in the county voted for it, while 72% of Latinos opposed it.

The Latino opposition, however, was not significant because only 5% of Orange County's electorate is Latino--no change from the June primary election--compared to 88% who are white.

"Proposition 187 did not motivate more Latinos to come out to vote," said Susan Pinkus, assistant director of the Los Angeles Times Poll. "People thought it would motivate them to come out. . . . It didn't work."

Nearly three out of five Orange County Democrats said they voted against the measure, but Democrats made up only 28% of the local vote, compared to 54% Republican, 15% independent and 3% other parties, according to the exit poll, which has a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Dorianne Garcia said Proposition 187 and her party's mishandling of the issue proved to be the Democrats' undoing.

"The Republicans did a real smart thing when they brought Proposition 187 to the front of the campaign," Garcia said. "We talked about things like the economy and rising crime and the Republicans kept saying, 'What about 187?' We played their game with their rules and we will never let that happen again."

In fact, the exit poll showed that the economy and jobs ranked near the bottom of a list of issues that voters said were important to them.

When asked to check off the two most important issues that helped them decide how to vote, Orange County voters placed illegal immigration at the top of the list, followed by taxes and crime. In statewide polling, the crime problem was more important than taxes.

And on Proposition 187, 78% of those who voted for it said they did so because they wanted to "send a message" and 52% said they wanted to force the federal government to face the issue.

"People were voting for it not because they think it's going to be enforced," Pinkus said. "They wanted to send a message to our governments--to the state government, to the federal government. They are frustrated. They want them to do something about illegal immigration."

In a county where conservatives' affection for Wilson was once lukewarm--as demonstrated by a 43% protest vote for his Republican opponent in the June primary--Proposition 187 clearly helped the governor win reelection.

Of those who said they voted for Wilson, 29% said they were influenced by his position on the immigration measure. This issue was followed by "Brown's family record," which includes a father and brother who served as governors, and then by Wilson's own record as governor.

Conversely, those who voted for Brown said they did so because of Wilson's record, the need for change, and because she had "good ideas." Only 10% of those who supported her said they did so because of her opposition to the illegal immigration initiative, even though she focused her campaign in the final days on the defeat of the measure.

Wilson's voting strength was generally across the board, except among Latinos, Democrats and liberals. Still, he drew almost one-third of the voters who said they were Democrats, while Brown received only 7% of the Republican vote.

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