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THE RECALL ELECTION

For 130, It's Not Whether You Win or Lose

Candidates beyond the top five received less than 3% of the vote. Name similarities may have helped a few.

October 09, 2003|James Rainey and Allison Hoffman | Times Staff Writers

There is not much to confuse between Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and a slightly paunchy, little-known businessman from the San Diego County beach town of Carlsbad, George B. Schwartzman. But the phonetic similarities of the two men's names and their side-by-side ballot placement on Tuesday's recall election ballot apparently confused enough voters to propel Schwartzman to 10,945 votes and a ninth-place finish.

The 57-year-old owner of a medical laboratory supply company finished ahead of all others on the 135-candidate ballot, except for the big-name political professionals and celebrities.

A recounting of the losers' performances in Wednesday's election may hold little import for the future of California. After all, the bottom 130 candidates managed to collect a total of only about 250,000 votes of an estimated 9 million cast, less than 3%.

Still, the furious attention surrounding all-things-recall persisted into the day after, as observers tried to explain the widely varying fortunes of the also-rans.

Some candidates blessed with the same names as well-known politicians fared relatively well. Ethnic allegiances helped at least one contender. The biggest spender in the lower ranks, dot-com magnate Garrett Gruener, had very little to show for his money.

But it was Todd Richard Lewis who earned the distinction of finishing 135th, and last, with just 172 votes.

By late Wednesday morning, dozens of radio, television and newspaper people had already called Lewis to ask how he managed to bring up the rear.

"Uh," Lewis said, "I think not enough people voted for me."

Lewis, 27, earned the nickname Bumhunter because he appeared in an infamous video, "Bumfights: Cause for Concern," which depicted street alcoholics pummeling one another.

Lewis said he disdained the content of that film but chose to again parody the familiar crocodile-hunting adventurer of television and the movies, Steve Irwin, in his recall candidacy. That meant adopting an Australian accent and khaki bush wear for most of two months.

On Wednesday, Lewis said he was relieved to be speaking in his own voice, as he found a positive spin for his woeful electoral showing.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see people didn't vote for me," he said. "I think maybe people decided to vote for a candidate who really had a chance. That is great."

In Orange County, radio talk-show host Van Vo -- sometimes called the Rush Limbaugh of Little Saigon -- garnered so many votes from the Vietnamese community that he outpolled another Orange County resident, Peter V. Ueberroth, among local voters. That helped Vo finish 15th statewide with 5,795 votes.

John Burton and Edward Kennedy -- who share names with the president of the California Senate and the veteran U.S. senator from Massachusetts, respectively -- managed to finish in the top 25. But there was no way of determining how many of their supporters, if any, might have confused them with their famous namesakes.

AskJeeves.com founder Gruener finished 29th, just behind billboard celebrity Angelyne. With more than $800,000 spent and only 2,178 votes tallied, he may have paid more for each vote than any other candidate.

It was Schwartzman, however, who seemed to draw the most attention Wednesday, fielding a deluge of phone calls.

Reporters wanted to discuss the phonetic convergence with Schwarzenegger and to make the expected, annoying assumptions.

"Those are not [Schwarzenegger's] cast-off votes," Schwartzman insisted. "That is just not right."

While conceding he might have received "a little" benefit from voter confusion, Schwartzman attributed the bulk of his votes to his own hard work. He said that most of his support came from counties where he spent a lot of time campaigning -- Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego.

He released an e-mail to the press stating:

"The ninth-place success realized by my candidacy demonstrates that a little known but determined, issue-based candidate can be successful when you are innovative, common-sense oriented and well organized."

To be sure, Schwartzman and Schwarzenegger shared little beyond their names' almost identical first syllables.

The businessman, a political independent, bashed the actor on the campaign trail and got into a shouting match with a Schwarzenegger supporter outside a San Bernardino rally.

Gov. Schwartzman would have upped cigarette taxes by $2 a pack and socked it to owners of oversized sport utility vehicles, like Schwarzenegger.

"My cost-per-vote was 60 cents," Schwartzman said Wednesday, "compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose cost-per-vote will exceed $4."

Voting experts said they were not surprised that Schwartzman didn't want his modest success discounted. But they insisted he owed more to his name and ballot position than anything else.

"There is no question that is why [Schwartzman] got these votes," said Raphael Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton political scientist. "There has got to be some reason he got more than 10,000 votes. You are talking about spillover from a known candidate."

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