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Would-Be Successors Line Up for Cox's Seat

Congressman hasn't gotten a judgeship offer and says he's not sure he'd take it, but the lure of a safe district sets Republican wheels in motion.


Political hopefuls continue to line up after news this week that Rep. Christopher Cox was being considered for a nomination to the federal appellate bench in San Francisco.

A handful of possible replacements emerged in the wake of comments by Sen. Barbara Boxer and others to the Los Angeles Times that the Newport Beach conservative was under consideration by the White House.

Cox isn't saying much, and suggested in private phone calls that he wasn't even sure he'd accept a move from the House, where he has served since 1988 and ranks fifth in the Republican leadership. Sources this week said his nomination by President Bush was "a done deal."

Cox's reaction hasn't stopped potential GOP candidates from jumping at the allure of his seat, the most solidly Republican district in the state. Among them: Santa Ana Councilman Brett Franklin, state Sen. Dick Ackerman of Fullerton, Assemblyman Bill Campbell of Orange, former Assemblyman Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach, businessman and party donor Mark C. Johnson and Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

Former Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale), who lost to Democrat Adam Schiff in a bruising election last November, said he has been "inundated with calls" from Republicans urging him to move to Orange County and run. But he was counseling caution Friday.

"Before everybody gets out of breath, they should recognize that Chris Cox is still a member of Congress," Rogan said. "He has not been nominated for anything yet."

Johnson was the most aggressive, moving $1.5 million into a campaign account. Sacramento consultants McNally Temple arrived in Orange County on Thursday to discuss a possible race.

"I can't afford to wait," said Johnson, the multimillionaire co-founder of the New Majority, a group of moderate Republican donors based in Orange County. "There's no other way for me to do this than as firmly and aggressively as I've done everything in my business career."

Baugh, the Assembly's former Republican leader, said he would not campaign if the field included Ackerman, elected to the state Senate last year after serving five years in the Assembly. But Baugh said he is interested in the congressional seat and plans to sit down with his former colleague and friend to decide which one would run.

"If the dominoes fall, I'm interested," Ackerman said Friday. About two-thirds of his district overlaps Cox's.

Spitzer already has announced that he'll run for the Assembly seat that Campbell will vacate in 2002 because of term limits. He said he is considering switching to the congressional race but that a decision is premature until Cox's future is decided.

South County political consultant Adam Probolsky said Spitzer would have an advantage over other Republicans because he has been a leader in the fight against the county's plans to build an airport at the closed El Toro Marine base. Campbell also is opposed to the new airport.

Cox's district includes South County cities, where overwhelming opposition to the proposed airport has dominated local elections for the last four years.

"By the next election, the airport is going to be the only issue," Probolsky said. "If [Spitzer's] in the race, he's the front-runner, with a whole lot of qualified people and some folks with money on his heels."

Spitzer's consultant, Dave Gilliard of Sacramento, said the Republican establishment probably will coalesce behind one conservative in the race as an alternative to Johnson.

Adding to the intrigue is the timing of a possible special election to fill Cox's seat, as well as the ongoing redrawing of congressional and legislative districts based on the 2000 Census.

Should Cox be nominated and confirmed before late summer, Gov. Gray Davis would have to call a special election in the fall to fill the seat. But candidates considering running for the March 2002 election can start collecting signatures to run in September. If the nomination process dragged on into September, Davis might decide to let voters determine Cox's successor in March.

A special election would be held for Cox's current seat. The March election would be under the lines drawn for the new district.

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