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California and the West

GOP Hopeful Launches Longshot Bid for Feinstein's Seat

Senate: San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn admits he faces uphill battle, but says the time is ripe for his party to have 'a different voice.'

April 18, 1999|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Out of every conflagration sprouts seedlings of new growth. At least that is what San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn hopes. Looking at his Republican Party's disastrous showing in the 1998 state elections, Horn saw a chance for lower-level politicians like himself to reach for the big time.

"I think it's an opportunity," Horn said in an interview last week as he opened his underdog campaign against incumbent Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "What the Republican Party needs is a new voice, a different voice."

The issues on which Horn is campaigning are hardly new, reflecting the impulses of many recent Republican candidates in California. But there is no doubt that Horn himself is new.

And because of that, his campaign is admittedly uphill.

He is little known outside his northern San Diego County base, where he has served as supervisor for slightly more than four years. His specific solutions to issues he believes are important to voters are still being hashed out. Having spent about $185,000 to win reelection in November, he is leaping into a race against a nationally financed candidate in which he will have to raise upward of $10 million in $1,000 increments.

And that is if he manages to wrest the GOP nomination from the party establishment's favorite, Rep. Jim Rogan of Glendale, who is still deciding whether to run.

An avocado grower and apartment building owner who hews closely to the conservative orthodoxy of lower taxes, deregulation and a limited role for the federal government, the 56-year-old Horn is un-self-consciously hoping that the controversy over U.S. troops in Kosovo will spark momentum to overcome his liabilities.

Stresses His Military Experience

Asked how he plans to defeat the popular Feinstein, Horn quickly refers to his two years in Vietnam, a record that he believes loans credibility to his contention that President Clinton and Feinstein have shorted the military during their tenure.

"I have a Marine Corps background," he said, "and I think the public would like to have that in the mix."

A hypothetical Horn-Feinstein match-up would provide a strange twist in historic battles about foreign policy and the military because it raises the specter of a Democrat who is more hawkish on using the military than the Marine Corps Republican.

Feinstein has opened the door to the use of U.S. troops on the ground in Kosovo, and has sharply defended the Clinton administration's decision to aid Kosovar Albanians suffering at the hands of Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Horn, sticking to the growing isolationist views of many in the GOP, says the United States and NATO have no business in Yugoslavia.

"I would not be there in the first place," he said. "I honestly believe that they've gotten themselves into a tar-baby situation."

Western nations should deal with Milosevic diplomatically, he said, adding that "I don't believe that NATO, a defensive [alliance], should be taking the offense."

Feinstein also favors a trading alliance with China, a position championed by the last Republican President, George Bush, while Horn echoes the historic complaints of many Democrats that the United States should punish China until it improves its human rights record.

Horn's views on military preparedness stick more closely to traditional Republican thought. He argues that funding for the Defense Department has plummeted dangerously in recent years--for which he blames Clinton and Feinstein.

"We couldn't fight a decent war on one front, let alone two," he said. When asked how much additional money he would allocate, he said he did not know.

A spokesman for Feinstein took issue with Horn's criticism, noting that the senator has been supportive, in particular, of California-based defense projects and bases.

"She has spoken out," said her campaign consultant, Kam Kuwata. "Maybe Mr. Horn wasn't listening."

Kuwata also underscored two potential liabilities for Horn--his opposition to gun control and his objections to abortion rights, both of which are embraced by the majority of voters in California.

"This is a guy who obviously wants to package himself in a certain way," Kuwata said. "He doesn't want to talk about being a leading advocate against gun control, against abortion rights. . . . It's not going to wash with California voters."

Raising Money Is Immediate Challenge

The imperative for Horn now is to make a name for himself, literally. A recent Field Poll declared that 19% of California voters said they knew of Horn. But even a senior Horn aide believes that was inflated by confusion with Rep. Steve Horn of Long Beach.

Horn is now concentrating on--what else--raising money for his longshot bid.

"This whole thing is going to be uphill," said Matt Cunningham, a Horn advisor. "Beating Feinstein is a challenge for any Republican. Raising the money to beat Feinstein is a challenge for any Republican."

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