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ELECTIONS / 19TH STATE SENATE DISTRICT

Republican Candidate McClintock Confident He's Got a Lock on Seat

GOP hopeful did well in primary and has big fund-raising advantage. Yet Gonzalez is still banking on his grass-roots campaign.

October 23, 2000|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The way Assemblyman Tom McClintock figures it, the race for the 19th Senate District already has been run.

It took place in March, during an open primary that allowed voters to cast ballots for candidates of any party. McClintock emerged with an overwhelming victory, taking 52% of the overall vote. Democratic opponent Daniel Gonzalez got 30%, 9 points lower than his party's registration.

McClintock, 44, says he has seen nothing since then that would lead him to believe that he's not the odds-on favorite to take the seat come the Nov. 7 general election, continuing Republicans' 30-year domination of the district that straddles Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

"I've never had a close race, in a primary or general election, anywhere within that district," said McClintock, who represented the entire district at various times during his 14 years in the Assembly. "But show me a candidate who takes a race for granted and I'll show you a candidate who will lose."

To that end, McClintock has been pouring it on.

He has widened an already substantial fund-raising lead, generating nearly $230,000 in loans and contributions since June compared to just $19,128 for Gonzalez. He also enjoys an edge in voter registration in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 42% to 39%.

But Gonzalez, a 44-year-old Simi Valley attorney, said he believes he can overcome McClintock's fund-raising and voter registration advantages by focusing on his opponent's record as a far-right ideologue often not even supported by his own party.

Gonzalez said he is waging an old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaign, attending political forums and going door to door with his message of improving education, reforming health care and returning tax dollars from the state to local governments.

He says his hard work is paying off. In Granada Hills, Republicans and Democrats alike are supporting his candidacy based on his promise to do everything possible to shut down the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, long targeted for closure by area residents.

Gonzalez said he also is buoyed by recent voter registration numbers showing that Democrats in Ventura County, where two-thirds of the district's voters live, signed up 4,297 new voters in the district since Labor Day, compared to only 740 for Republicans.

"If I build enough critical mass, if I'm successful in getting the word out, then there could be a November surprise for Tom McClintock," said Gonzalez, who lost a bid for Congress in 1998.

"This is an election where the issues are with the Democrats: education, jobs, health care and anti-gun violence," he said. "It's winnable, but it's all up to me and my campaign. The real question is whether I'm going to be able to walk enough precincts and build the tidal wave of momentum needed to carry me to victory."

Almost everyone, including Gonzalez, agrees that his is a long-shot candidacy.

McClintock, who has never lost a local race, has a head start in name recognition in the 19th District, which comprises the 37th and 38th Assembly districts.

He held the 37th Assembly seat from 1982 to 1992 while living in Thousand Oaks. And he has been a Northridge-based assemblyman in the 38th District since 1996.

During that time, he has gained a reputation as a tight-fisted, one-of-a-kind conservative, ready and willing to cast the sole dissenting vote on new laws because they would cost taxpayers money.

Gas Tax Cut Plan Increases Support

Such thriftiness has even rankled some within his own party.

But his tax-cutting proposals--he wants to abolish California's car tax and the 15-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline--have won him plenty of popular support, so much so that GOP leaders aren't even bothering to do any polling for his upcoming race.

"He's a tremendous representative for that district and I'd find it hard to believe he wouldn't win that election," said Jamie Fisfis, political director for the Republican Assembly Caucus.

Just to be sure, Senate Republican leaders have loaned McClintock's campaign $200,000 for the race. Earlier this month, he still had $205,000 in his campaign war chest compared to $2,150 for Gonzalez, who is yet to receive a similar boost from party leaders.

There are other issues as well. For two months, Gonzalez fought a State Bar of California suspension of his right to practice law. Gonzalez had been suspended for failing to respond to client complaints about the way he performed his job. But he was reinstated last month after he cleared up what was essentially an address snafu that kept him from responding.

Gonzalez said he expects the initial complaints, which he says are baseless, to be resolved soon in his favor. But he and local Democratic leaders say those problems couldn't have come at a worse time.

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