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On Memory Lane, a Place Where Republicans Rule

Elections: Santa Ana retirement home--a precinct unto itself--is 91% GOP and declares a soft spot for Dole.

November 04, 1996|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Just down East Memory Lane stands a three-story Republican bridge to the past that makes the rest of Orange County look like a village overrun by flaming liberals.

Inside this protected enclave, they shudder at what they see as America's decaying moral fiber, they applaud the GOP's Contract With America, and they back a nice younger man for President named Bob Dole.

It's the Town and Country Manor, a retirement home--and self-contained precinct--that boasts the highest percentage of registered Republicans in the county. Of the 213 registered voters in Precinct No. 68312, almost 91% are Republican. By comparison, only 51% of registered voters in Orange County are registered Republicans.

"Isn't that great?" said Teresa Brillhart, 77, of Town and Country's overwhelming Republican leanings. "I wouldn't vote for Bill Clinton to scrub floors."

Amen, say the vast majority of residents at 21-year-old retirement home operated by the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a small evangelical Protestant denomination. For most of the home's residents, who can still vividly recall the Great Depression and World War II, the last Democrat they crossed over Republican Party lines for was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"I voted for Roosevelt and my father nearly disowned me," said Bob Reynolds, 74, who was a missionary in the Philippines for 15 years. "He was a staunch Republican, but I thought Roosevelt was doing a good job leading the country in the war."

In a county of mostly indistinguishable precincts, the Town and Country Manor has carved out its own niche among political observers.

"In other areas of the country, precincts have names," said one local political consultant. "Here in California, they're just numbers. No one knows the numbers, except I know 68312. I know that precinct."

Nobody on Earth planned to make Town and Country Manor a GOP bastion, say residents, it just worked out that way. Most residents were drawn to the quiet community, where they pray before every meal, because of its Christian roots and tradition.

And, explain residents, some Christians believe that the Republican Party best represents their faith.

So, tomorrow's presidential election was a no-brainer for the Rev. Bert Lofsted, 79, who like almost everyone else at the retirement home votes by absentee ballot.

"We try to hold to Christian values," said Lofsted, a missionary in South America and Spain for nearly 40 years. "I think Christians generally have more confidence in what Dole stands for."

"I don't like what Bill Clinton has done," continued the soft-spoken man, on whose front door hangs the American flag. "He wanted gays in the military. . . . I just don't understand that."

For other Republicans in the retirement home, selecting Dole over Clinton is as simple as inspecting the current commander-in-chief as he carries out his basic duties.

"He can't salute right. His hand is always bent," said Jim Peck, 83, a World War II veteran, who mimics Clinton's gesture with a chuckle. "He leaves the country, avoids the draft, and then comes back and gets elected president. That just turned me off him from the word go."

And don't even bring up independent candidate Ross Perot with these folks.

"He's an individual that knows all about himself," said Peck, who worked on the railroads and later as an auditor after World War II. "He's egotistical, overbearing and he's got money and he throws it in your face."

With so much uniformity in views, it's difficult to find a respectable political debate even on the eve of a national election, say residents.

Among the men, disputes over the rankings of college football teams generate more heat than anything Clinton ever did.

Of course, even if residents did sharply disagree over politics, they probably wouldn't discuss it anyway. They come from a generation where it's considered impolite to talk about certain subjects.

"We're old enough to know you don't get into a political or a religious argument," said Lyle MacLaren, 88, who was born in Black Wolf, Wis., but worked as a sign painter in Santa Ana for most of his life. "Older people are set in their ways. It's hard to make them budge."

Yet, last week, a Democratic office seeker ventured into the Republican lion's den in search of converts. Democrat Tina Louise Laine, who is challenging Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) for his congressional seat, spoke before 75 residents in a candidates forum night where she roundly criticized the Republican Party.

Here's Laine's spin on the evening.

"I think I won some votes there," said Laine, an attorney from Orange. "I know as a Democrat, I was a minority, but I think I was well-received."

The residents saw it a slightly different way.

"She was from the far left," said Lois Reynolds, 71, who met her husband, Bob, in a journalism class after World War II. "You could feel the tension in the room. I don't think she knew what she was getting into."

Added Caroline McMillan, 66: "She gave the typical liberal rhetoric. She was just like a fish out of water. I felt kind of sorry for her."

That Laine may have been unaware of the group's true feelings is not entirely beyond belief. Even in the face of baldfaced liberals, residents believe it's important to remain courteous.

Indeed, other candidates, accustomed to more raucous crowds on the campaign trail, praised the retirement home group's manners.

"They hung on our every word," said Santa Ana City Council candidate Brett Franklin. "They were probably the most polite crowd that we've spoken to. . . . It was nice as opposed to some of the other forums where things can get out of control."

So just why are there so many GOP loyalists in the Town and Country Manor? Simple, explained Lofsted with a smile: "I think the older people get, the smarter they get."

Also contributing to this report were Times staff writer Lee Romney and Dick Lewis, an independent voting analyst.

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