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ELECTIONS

No Big Democratic Aid in Store for McGrath

Finances: Party leaders decide against large donations. Campaign fund-raising reports show her trailing Republican Strickland by a wide margin in 37th District Assembly race.

October 23, 1998|MIGUEL BUSTILLO and DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Assembly Democratic leaders have decided not to back Roz McGrath's uphill 37th District campaign with the large contributions she had hoped would push her past Republican Tony Strickland, a Democratic spokesman said Thursday.

"The polling we've done shows she's running a great race and she's neck and neck with Strickland," said Darry Sragow, campaign manager for the Assembly Democratic Caucus. "But it's a seat that's traditionally Republican, and there are other races that present more certain opportunities for us."

New campaign finance reports filed Thursday show Strickland maintaining a huge fund-raising edge, despite improvement by McGrath in recent days. Strickland received about $41,000 to push his total for the year to $452,000, according to the reports, which cover the period up to Oct. 17.

McGrath, meanwhile, raised $32,000 for the period and $20,000 more this week, boosting her total to $105,000. Previously, she had said it would take contributions of $300,000 to $400,000 to win in a district where no Democrat has prevailed in at least 30 years.

In another local Assembly race, however, Democrats are spending big to help Hannah-Beth Jackson defeat Chris Mitchum and capture a seat that both parties consider pivotal to control of the Assembly.

Mitchum had raised $137,000 this period for a total of $622,000 while Jackson had collected $292,000 for a total of $604,000--much of it from state Democratic Party leaders.

In countywide races, rivals in the high-profile Save Open Space Agricultural Resources growth-control campaign remained almost even in the fund-raising battle, with each collecting just over $300,000.

The same was true for the race for Superior Court judge, where candidates Gary Windom and Kevin McGee each raised more than $100,000.

37th Assembly District

In the 37th District--which includes Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Moorpark--McGrath, a Somis kindergarten teacher, said her inability to secure big-money support from Assembly Democratic leaders is not a crippling blow. She said she is receiving some Democratic Party money and can still run a solid campaign.

"I talk to them and they're amazed because they never thought we'd have a chance to take this seat," McGrath said. "But they have other races they're concerned about too. They've made that very clear. I guess you could call me the dark horse of the party."

McGrath did receive some party support this week when the state Democratic Central Committee made two $10,000 contributions. And she said she expects Democratic leaders to print and mail a flier for her this weekend--a contribution worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa also chipped in a $1,000 postage fee this week, she said.

During the past filing period, McGrath's biggest givers were: $6,700 from various Democratic groups and lawmakers, $6,000 from two teachers' unions, $4,500 from laborer and carpenter unions, and $4,000 from the county employees' union. Thousand Oaks businessman Larry Janss gave $1,175 and farmer John S. Broome paid $250 to tow a McGrath banner behind a plane.

McGrath said she expects much more help from various Democratic Party interests over the next 10 days. She had $30,000 in the bank for a final push on Oct. 17, before the party contributed $20,000.

Strickland, 28, a former aide to Assemblyman Tom McClintock, has already begun his push to the Nov. 3 election, unleashing a flurry of mailers. Three have already gone out, another will be mailed today and two will be sent next week, campaign consultant Joe Giardiello said.

"We've always run this mainly to get Tony's message out, so whatever she is going to do doesn't really affect us," he said.

Strickland has $22,000 left in the bank in his bid to replace Assemblyman Nao Takasugi, retiring because of term limits. "But we've paid for everything we think we'll need," Giardiello said.

As opposed to previous large contributions from conservative political groups and lawmakers, most of Strickland's $41,000 in donations this period came from small givers.

"It's a lot of smaller stuff this time," Giardiello said. "But if it looks like the Democrats are coming in [with large contributions], we'll go back to our supporters and ask again."

Strickland's major contributions this time were: $2,000 from former U.S. Senate candidate Darrell Issa, $2,000 from the Orange County conservative California Lincoln Club, $2,000 from the California Apartment Assn., and $1,500 from the Edison International power company.

35th Assembly District

In the race for the 35th District seat vacated by Brooks Firestone, both parties pumped money into the campaigns of their respective first-time candidates. The district includes Ventura, Ojai and Santa Paula.

Much of the money spent by Republican Mitchum and Democrat Jackson during this period went toward radio and television advertising.

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