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Beilenson's Decision Gives Hope to Some

November 03, 1995|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

U. S. Rep. Anthony Beilenson's sudden announcement that he would not seek reelection has conservative Republicans flirting with the notion that they could win the district stretching across the San Fernando Valley into Thousand Oaks.

Before the news broke, the conventional wisdom on the 1996 race was the GOP nod would go to moderate Republican Richard Sybert, who ran against Beilenson in 1994, spending a half-million dollars of his own money and landing 47% of the vote.

"Our phones were lighting up," said one GOP activist Thursday. "Everyone was talking about a conservative challenge to Sybert [in the GOP primary]. Sybert is wrong on big conservative issues like guns and abortion and he has failed to click as a candidate."

But the conservative whose name cropped up most--former Thousand Oaks state Assemblyman Tom McClintock, who ran against Beilenson in 1992--was a no-go.

McClintock told The Times he was not interested.

"It's very flattering," said McClintock, who is director of a Sacramento-based research arm of the Claremont Institute, the free-market think tank. "But my expertise is in state government. I'm currently working on a project for redesigning state government and I want to stick with it."

McClintock also praised Sybert, a former top aide to Gov. Pete Wilson, calling him an innovative political thinker who labored tirelessly and at great personal sacrifice in 1994 to unseat Beilenson.

With McClintock throwing cold water on a draft movement, conservatives by day's end were swallowing hard. "A lot of people don't like Sybert, but the fact is that he's middle of the road on social issues while being a conservative on law enforcement and immigration and that puts him in lockstep with this congressional district," one Republican moderate said.

"I do not expect any serious challenger in the primary, and if there is one I'll beat them," Sybert said, arguing that a conservative Republican candidate would be a futility in the 24th District. "Look at the election results," he said. "In 1994 I got 47% of the vote [against Beilenson], and in 1992 McClintock got only 39%. I'm the strongest candidate the GOP can put in the field in this district.

"My phone's been ringing off the hook since the word got out about Beilenson with people saying 'congratulations' [as if the seat were his]," Sybert said. "But I've been trying to sober them up--this is going to be a competitive district."

Democrats, meanwhile, are reviewing a long list of potential candidates. "There are a lot of strong Democrats out there," said Jim Whitney, communications chief for the Democratic National Congressional Campaign Committee. "And absolutely it'll be a priority district for the Democratic leadership to keep in the Democratic column," he said.

Two who admit to being interested in the seat are Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and Brad Sherman, a state Board of Equalization member.

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