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Political Briefing

With Beilenson Out, GOP Right Wing May Line Up Behind Sybert

November 03, 1995|JOHN SCHWADA and HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

THE RIGHT STUFF: GOP conservatives are grudgingly conceding that moderate Republican Rich Sybert might be their party's most viable candidate for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), who shocked political observers Wednesday by announcing that he will not seek reelection next year.

After the news of Beilenson's decision broke, GOP right wingers began to rethink the conventional wisdom about the 1996 race: that Sybert, who ran against Beilenson in 1994, spending half a million dollars of his own money and scoring 47% of the vote, had earned the right to run again and should not be opposed in the primary.

But with Beilenson out, conservatives began flirting with the notion that maybe Sybert didn't need to be their party's standard-bearer.

"Our phones were lighting up," said one GOP activist who asked not to be identified. "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 often--former local Assemblyman Tom McClintock, who ran against Beilenson in 1992--was a no-go. McClintock told The Times he is not interested.

"It's very flattering," said McClintock, who is director of a Sacramento-based research arm of the Claremont Institute, a 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. "I have a lot of respect for him," McClintock said.

With McClintock throwing cold water on a draft movement, conservatives were swallowing hard by day's end. "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 lock-step with this congressional district," said one Republican moderate.

"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 Congressional 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,' " 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 state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and Brad Sherman, a member of the state Board of Equalization.

"This is a tough Democratic seat," said political consultant Larry Levine, who has shepherded two local Democrats into office recently--state Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Feuer.

"Look at the numbers." The "numbers" are the voter registration figures--statistics that are treated with almost icon-like regard by consultants in partisan races.

In the 24th District, the numbers show that 46% of the electorate is registered Democratic, 40% Republican. Normally, such a small Democratic advantage would be taken to mean that the district was actually Republican-leaning (because Republicans vote more religiously than Democrats).

But numbers don't tell the whole story. How else to explain Beilenson's wins in 1992 and 1994? In short, both parties are predicting a tough fight and taking nothing for granted. "It should get wild and woolly," Levine said.

*

KATZ CALLS: Call it the first endorsement of next year's race for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. But was it a joke or a real vote of confidence?

During a Los Angeles City Council discussion this week on the controversial Lopez Canyon landfill, Richard Katz rose to urge the council to close the dump when its operating permit expires next year.

But as he was making his point, a smiling Councilman Joel Wachs held up a handmade sign urging Katz to run against Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Wachs' sign read "Run Against Antonovich."

Sitting next to Wachs was a grinning Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. holding up a sign that read "Run Katz, Run."

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