With his deep pockets and a bevy of mainstream endorsements, Republican businessman Randy Hoffman has the resources and support to mount a serious challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) in the November elections.
He has raised $636,000 to date and enjoys the support of local GOP heavyweights such as county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Los Angeles Police Commissioner Herbert Boeckmann and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley).
But before he can set his sights on Sherman, Hoffman in the June 2 primary must beat two other GOP candidates who are determined to overcome Hoffman's huge financial advantage by campaigning hard and challenging him with stands on tough issues.
"I don't need to get into an arms race with Randy Hoffman because I will lose," said Republican candidate Joe Gelman, a former newspaper columnist. "But I need to get my message out as aggressively as I can."
Gelman and businessman William Westmiller have already hit hard at Hoffman.
In campaign events and interviews, Gelman has called Hoffman an "empty suit" and accused him of being "all fluff and no substance."
Hoffman's supporters shrug off the criticism, saying the attacks are a desperate attempt to garner publicity.
"Unfortunately for our opponents, they have not generated enough interest in their campaign to get them off the ground," said Todd Blair, Hoffman's campaign director. "They will do anything to get some attention and some press."
Westmiller and Gelman say they are working hard in the final days before the primary to get their names known throughout the district, which stretches from the west San Fernando Valley to Thousand Oaks. The district has more than 300,000 registered voters, but only about half are expected to vote in the primary.
Neither has full-time campaign staff members and both rely mostly on volunteers and friends to help.
"I've been doing everything I can to communicate with voters," said Westmiller, who is using volunteers, a list of e-mail addresses and "lots of precinct walking" to get his message out.
Westmiller, the owner of a paper store in Thousand Oaks, said he has raised about $9,000, more than half of which has come from his own pockets. He said he has distributed about 6,000 campaign brochures.
Gelman, who helped lead the campaign for Proposition 209, the 1996 measure to eliminate affirmative action in government programs, has raised about $8,500, most of it in personal loans he gave to his campaign. So far, he said, he has sent about 28,000 campaign mailers to voters.
But Gelman vows to eventually get a campaign brochure in the hands of every Republican voter in the district.
"There will not be a Republican in this district who will not hear from me," he said, declining to reveal his strategy.
Hoffman, former president of Magellan Systems Inc., a San Dimas-based company that makes satellite navigation devices, has $358,288 on hand, according to campaign records. But $425,000 of his total of $636,000 has come from a personal loan and $85,000 from in-kind contributions he gave his campaign. The campaign has mailed more than 120,000 campaign brochures to date, Blair said.
Hoffman has the resources to pour even more money into the campaign. His net worth is reportedly between $2 million and $7 million.
Gelman and Westmiller complain Hoffman is considered the front-runner simply because of his personal fortune. But political consultants say funding often determines the success of a campaign.
"You have to have money, like it or not, to communicate your message," said Rick Taylor, a veteran campaign consultant who has worked with several local candidates and measures. "No matter how much free media you get, it's still not enough."
Several studies, including a 1996 analysis by Common Cause, a campaign watchdog group, show about 90% of the candidates who spend the most win.
Sherman, a former member of the state Board of Equalization, does not face a Democratic challenger in the primary. But he already has $246,258 on hand, according to campaign records.
If Hoffman wins the primary, the runoff against Sherman is expected to be one of the most expensive in the state. In the 1996 campaign, Sherman spent $1.4 million to beat Richard Sybert, a toy company executive. More than $600,000 of Sherman's money came from a loan he gave to his campaign.
Sherman's seat is crucial to the Republican Party, which is desperate to retain its majority in the House of Representatives. The party has already targeted Sherman as one of the top 10 incumbents in the nation that the party wants to unseat this year.
The district is considered winnable by either party because 45% of voters are registered Democrats and 39% are Republican.