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California and the West

Riggs' Money Woes Kill Longshot Bid for U.S. Senate

April 10, 1998|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying he plans to quit politics, Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Windsor) on Thursday abandoned his longshot bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate because he could not raise enough campaign money.

His exit leaves entrepreneur Darrell Issa and state Treasurer Matt Fong as the leading candidates for their party's nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Riggs' name will remain on the ballot, which is already printed.

"My inability to devote the time and to raise the money necessary to wage a competitive campaign is simply, and painfully, a matter of too little, too late," Riggs said in a statement.

The congressman said he is weary of his cross-country commute and what he called the "dual existence" of having his family in Virginia but often traveling back to his Northern California district. He will serve out his current term, Riggs said, and then reside in Virginia.

His wife, Cathy Riggs, has her own business, Riggs Research & Investigations, an Alexandria, Va., firm that does opposition research for political candidates.

Riggs officially joined the Senate race just days after San Diego Mayor Susan Golding opted out of it after being unable to raise enough money. By deciding on a Senate bid, he avoided the prospect of a tough reelection fight against Democratic state Sen. Mike Thompson.

Riggs had been hit hard in previous campaigns for a series of questionable financial decisions and could have faced even tougher scrutiny during his Senate bid.

A Federal Elections Commission audit of his 1990 campaign found that he had violated election law by improperly bankrolling his campaign with corporate money and loans from his mother, father and sister that exceeded contribution limits. But when the investigation concluded last year, the statute of limitations had lapsed.

Riggs spent considerable time in his first term deflecting criticism that he reneged on a promise to turn over his congressional pay increase to charity (he ended up sending half to charity) and another pledge not to take contributions from the oil and timber industries.

Riggs' quickie campaign may have set a California record. The next-shortest campaign appears to have been the effort of then-Secretary of State March Fong Eu--Matt Fong's mother--whose 1988 U.S. Senate campaign lasted just nine months.

The Issa and Fong campaigns immediately predicted that Riggs' withdrawal will benefit them--although Riggs garnered almost no support in opinion polls. Issa, a rich newcomer, has spent millions on advertising and pushed ahead of Fong in recent polls.

"Now there are two candidates for the people to choose from," said a Fong spokesman. "We feel confident voters will reject the nasty, negative, harsh tone of Darrell Issa."

An Issa spokesman (who recently had said of Riggs, "If hypocrisy were drizzle, Frank Riggs would be El Nino") praised Riggs for his "energetic and valiant campaign." He added: "We'll definitely benefit. We have a strong presence in Northern California, and we've been working it hard."

A former sheriff's deputy and school board member, the 47-year-old Riggs has thrice been elected to a district representing the northwest corner of California where the Republican Party is a minority. As such, he touted himself as the strongest GOP candidate against Boxer.

Riggs defeated a Democratic incumbent in 1990 and was defeated for reelection in 1992 by Democrat Dan Hamburg. But he defeated Hamburg in 1994 during the year known as the "Republican revolution" and was reelected in 1996.

At the California Republican Party convention in February, Riggs had expressed confidence that he could catch Issa and Fong. He said he thought he could raise enough money--particularly from agricultural sources and National Rifle Assn. members.

"We're all in the car," he told reporters. "Now all we need is a little gas."

Times staff writer Marc Lacey in Washington and political writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.

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