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GOP Faces Uphill Battle to Regain Control of Capitol

Democrats enjoy huge fund-raising advantage as both parties analyze primary results to pick and choose their district fights in November election.


As they turn to November in their never-ending battle for control of the Legislature, Sacramento's Democratic and Republican leaders will digest this week's primary results with an eye on strategy, picking and choosing the races in which they feel they can gain an advantage.

But in this political chess match, the GOP already is down a few pieces. Outnumbered in both houses, Republicans have to contend with the reality that they are being blown away by Democrats in the critical arena of fund-raising, which will directly affect competitiveness in the fall.

Assembly Speaker-elect Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) have raised millions more in the past year than their Republican counterparts, Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) and state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine).

"That's where [state Sen.] Jim Brulte [R-Rancho Cucamonga] comes in," said Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum, editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, referring to the GOP's top campaign tactician. "He's going to have to come in and raise a lot of money."

Brulte said he expected Republicans to lose the fund-raising race, and downplayed the impact.

"We are always outspent in general elections. Willie Brown outspent me 3 to 1 [in the Assembly], but we still were able to capture the majority. If we are outspent 10 to 1, that will be a big problem. But I don't see that happening."

Business Groups Back Democrats

While that gap may be somewhat predictable in a Democrat-dominated Legislature, the Democrats have widened their financial lead in part by appealing to business groups that traditionally had placed political bets with the GOP--a turnabout that troubles many Republican lawmakers. In a sign of their concern, Baugh recently issued a mail piece about what the GOP called the myth of the business-friendly Democrat, which likens their existence to that of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

"We're in real strong shape," said Darry Sragow, the main consultant to Assembly Democrats, who control 47 of the 80 seats in the lower house.

Nevertheless, Burton and Hertzberg remain cautious when weighing the prospect of Democratic gains.

"I think the odds of picking up seats are better than losing any," Burton said. "But it's a 6-to-5 ticket."

Hertzberg discounted the Democrats' fund-raising lead Wednesday, noting that many Republican contenders are independently wealthy and more than capable of bankrolling their campaigns. But he said he felt extremely positive about Democrats' fall prospects for another reason: the growing number of voters that voted for Democrats on Tuesday in districts that until recently were held by Republicans.

He noted that freshman Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, who narrowly won her Ventura-Santa Barbara area seat two years ago to bolster Democrats' hold on the Assembly, garnered 55% of the overall vote Tuesday, despite having a Democratic opponent to divide party votes. Many Republicans feel Jackson should never have won in the first place--Baugh recently referred to her district as "the Brooks Firestone seat" for its former GOP occupant--and she will be targeted by Republicans in November, when she battles Santa Paula Councilwoman Robin Sullivan.

Reacting to his strong showing Tuesday, Democrats--and some Republicans--believe that Vice President Al Gore will lead California polls by such a significant margin in the fall that Texas Gov. George W. Bush will limit his campaign here. That would have a negative ripple effect on Republican candidates for state legislative and congressional seats, as it did four years ago, when Bob Dole stayed away from California.

However, Brulte, Baugh and other GOP leaders insisted that Bush will have a significant presence here.

"He doesn't want a situation where he wins the presidency and loses Congress," Baugh said. "The Bush campaign has made commitments that money raised here will be spent here. We fully expect that to happen."

Though this week's primary results were in large part predictable, several high-profile upsets dotted the Democratic field, particularly in the wide-open races for Los Angeles Assembly seats being vacated by veteran lawmakers due to term limits.

On the GOP side, moderate Republicans scored some key victories over conservatives in Orange County, but were badly beaten nearly everywhere else, signaling the continuing strength of the Republican right wing in determining the party's direction. Some Republicans speculated Wednesday that moderates had put too much emphasis on Orange County, the focus of a highly publicized fight over control of the party's local arm, and lost sight of the bigger picture.

Late Flurry of Contributions

One of the most dramatic Democratic upsets occurred in the Assembly district spanning Santa Monica, Malibu, and the western edge of Los Angeles, where environmentalist and former Agoura Hills Mayor Fran Pavley bested S. David Freeman, the well-connected head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. With money from energy companies, Freeman outspent Pavley by a wide margin, but as the race wound to a close, Pavley received a late flurry of contributions from labor groups, and $10,000 from liberal rock star Don Henley.

Pavley will now square off against Jayne Murphy Shapiro, a wealthy children's safety advocate and political moderate, in what is expected to be a heated contest.


Times staff writers Hilary E. MacGregor, Jenifer Warren, Dan Morain, Zanto Peabody, Solomon Moore and Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this story.

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