The race for the 1st District county supervisor's seat includes a trio of popular Republican officials from three of the area's major cities in a contest that will test who can find the most votes outside his home base.
The major contenders in the nonpartisan March 26 election are Fountain Valley Councilman George B. Scott, Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith and Garden Grove Councilman Mark Leyes. Two candidates considered longshots in the competition to succeed retiring supervisor Roger R. Stanton are Libertarian Gary D. Copeland of Fountain Valley and Democrat Robert John Banuelos of Santa Ana.
Most political observers agree it is unlikely that any candidate will win a majority of the votes and capture the seat next month. That means the two top vote-getters probably will meet again in November.
"Unless any one of the candidates substantially increases his fund-raising there will be a runoff," said political consultant Mark Thompson, who is not involved in the contest. "I predict Leyes will be in first place, but he won't have sufficient votes to take it outright, not unless he can spend $100,000 and his key opponents don't increase their spending substantially."
Leyes, a Democrat until January 1995, has the backing of several county Republican heavyweights, including his boyhood friend, Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle of Garden Grove.
"Mark is antitax and conservative," Pringle said. "He believes in a limited government," one that focuses "on public safety as the No. 1 job. In addition to that, he is my best friend."
That has made Leyes the biggest fund-raiser in the contest. As of the most recent campaign report filed Feb. 10 he had raised $33,000, although he says the figure reached $55,000 last week.
His friendship with Pringle has also given him access to voter lists and computer technology under the control of the county's leading Republican politician.
It has also caused a number of people to attack Leyes, labeling him an opportunist who shed his Democratic registration after a career as a Democratic Party activist. Others criticize him as a conservative-come-lately who was the deciding vote in 1991 when the Garden Grove City Council approved $3.3 million in taxes and fee increases.
Leyes rejects the opportunist charge and the tax-and-spend label.
"My antitax credentials speak for themselves," he said. "I campaigned against Measure R [the half-cent sales tax to bail the county out of bankruptcy that was rejected in June], when George Scott was missing in action."
Leyes also defended the tax and fee increases, especially one that raised water rates, saying it was done to make the city-run Water Department fiscally independent of the general fund budget.
Scott said he opposed Measure R but did not publicly campaign against it.
The district attorney's office is trying to determine whether Leyes is meeting requirements that a 1st District home where he is registered to vote is his "domicile." Some opponents contend Leyes actually lives in another home he owns in a section of Garden Grove in the 2nd Supervisorial District.
Leyes rejected the charge. He said he and his wife, Wanda, are now living in the 1st District house, sharing the quarters with a family that has rented it from him for several years.
Smith said he would file an official protest with the registrar's office in an attempt to have Leyes removed from the ballot.
Copeland also faces allegations that he is registered at his business address, which is inside the district, rather than the address where his wife and children live, which is outside it. He too has rejected the allegations, contending he actually lives at the business address because of an unusual family arrangement.
The low-key campaign has so far surprised some observers, who note the relative difficulty the candidates appear to be having in raising funds. Campaign fund-raising reports filed Feb. 10, the most recent available, showed that Scott had raised $11,400 and Smith $22,700. Both candidates said last week, however, that they had exceeded those sums, with Scott claiming $40,000 and Smith $25,000.
Total spending is substantially down from the 1994 primary for the 2nd District seat.
The central Orange County district has traditionally seen some of the county's lowest voter turnout. It encompasses all of Fountain Valley and Westminster, half of Garden Grove, two-thirds of Santa Ana and several unincorporated areas, the largest of which is Midway City.
If money remains tight, then spots in the runoff could go to the candidates with the best organizations.
"None of the three [city officials] are that well known and they are isolated in their own areas," said consultant Bruce Nestande, a former supervisor and Assembly member. "Whoever can put that personal effort into it can break out."
The most interesting aspect of the race will be watching which candidate works hardest to woo voters outside his home turf.