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Case, Gallegly Both Lay Claim to 'Moderate' Label


When Ventura attorney Michael Case announced his run for Congress last year, he read his speech word-for-word. All five pages of it. In a monotone. Listeners clapped politely.

But when Case mounted a star-spangled stage at the Democrats' Labor Day picnic last month, he was passionate and articulate--speaking to loyalists in the audience, not reading to them.

"He is getting better all the time," said Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) from the back of the crowd.

But if Case, 53, has transformed himself into a candidate who can excite a crowd, he still needs to showcase his skills on a broader stage over the next five weeks to become Ventura County's next congressman.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has held the seat since 1986, cruising to reelection six times since upsetting Bob Hope's free-spending son in a Republican primary 14 years ago--even routing by 12 percentage points a Democratic challenger who outspent him in 1992.

This time, Gallegly, 56, expects to win by even more. A campaign poll taken 10 days ago showed him with a 2-to-1 lead over Case among frequent voters, he said.

"We're doing very well," he said last week. "Over 40% of [poll respondents] had never heard of Michael Case."

Case's own midsummer poll showed Gallegly leading 37% to 15%, but with 43% undecided. And those 43% are the voters Case is going after in his uphill run to Nov. 7.

In a series of mailers being delivered this week, Case will define himself and spotlight differences between his positions and Gallegly's.

He believes voters of the 23rd District--which covers Carpinteria and all of Ventura County except the Thousand Oaks area--are moderate, not Gallegly's stripe of social conservative.

"I'm in this race because I consider myself a true moderate," Case said. "In an election year, Elton Gallegly likes to call himself a moderate, but the votes he has cast in Congress demonstrate his true beliefs."

A Fresno County farm boy who grew up to found the largest law firm in Ventura, Case has caught the eye of his party.

Congressional Democrats are targeting his race for money and attention--taking an active roll with advice, resources and voter registration. The party gave Case $5,000 in February but won't say how much more is coming.

"I think what Michael has done is make it competitive," said Erik Smith, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "He's doing a wonderful job of picking up support in the district. [He has raised] $450,000, and that's impressive."

The challenge is to overcome Gallegly. The former cabinetmaker, real estate broker and Simi Valley mayor is a formidable incumbent.

In the March primary, in which voters could cast ballots for any candidate, Gallegly pulled 64% to Case's 24% in a district evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

"How do you get 64% when the district is only 41% Republican unless you serve everybody?" he said.

Gallegly has about $1 million tucked away for his push to election day, while Case said he has raised nearly $500,000 and has about $300,000 left to spend.


Gallegly stays in close touch with his district. He claims a paid membership of 2,000 in his Congressional Club of supporters, which meets regularly. He returns from Washington to his Simi Valley home nearly every weekend.

He is renowned for what he brings home to Ventura County.

He says he has brought thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars into the local economy, from the new police station in Simi Valley to a wing of radar planes at Point Mugu.

Indeed, he helped lead Ventura County's fight to save the Point Mugu and Port Hueneme naval bases during several rounds of base closures in the mid-1990s.

"Every time we've needed assistance, he's come through," Sheriff Bob Brooks said. "He got us a couple million dollars to help us get computers in all our [police] cars."

Case's strategy is to highlight another aspect of Gallegly's record--his stands on issues that test his social conservatism and are often a litmus test for a candidate. A protege of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Gallegly is a longtime favorite of the National Rifle Assn. and the Christian Coalition, Case said.

"I don't mind running against the real Elton Gallegly," Case said. "But what is frustrating is that he's sent out very blurred statements about who he is and how he's voted. There are great examples of where his positions today are blatantly inconsistent with his record."

Notable, Case said, are Gallegly's statements over the last 15 months that he supports existing federal law that allows abortions. Case points out that Gallegly has stated repeatedly over the years that he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is in danger.

"Why doesn't he just say where he really stands?" Case said.

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