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Day After, McClintock Finds His Senate Seat May Not Be So Secure

Many moderates in the GOP are angry he didn't drop out. One is openly considering running against him in March's primary.

October 09, 2003|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — New day, new race.

The morning after Tom McClintock's high-profile campaign for governor fell short, the conservative state senator from Thousand Oaks was facing a new challenge -- how to keep his job in the Legislature.

A maverick Republican, McClintock angered GOP moderates by refusing to drop out of the recall race in favor of party front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, the senator faces the consequences.

Candidates for the Legislature must declare their intention to run in the March primary within the next month. And a wealthy, well-known GOP moderate has already declared an interest in opposing McClintock -- Carpinteria businesswoman Beth Rogers, who ran for Congress in 2002.

Several prominent Republicans said Wednesday that they think party moderates will eagerly support Rogers' candidacy.

"I have heard that Beth Rogers is considering a run, and if she does, she'll be a formidable candidate," said former Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, who worked closely with the Schwarzenegger campaign. "A credible candidate such as Beth would probably get the lion's share of Republican funding."

Just 2 1/2 weeks ago, Rogers hosted a $250-per-person cocktail reception for Schwarzenegger at her home. She said the event was eye-opening for her because of the hostility even conservatives expressed toward McClintock.

"I was impressed by the number of strongly conservative supporters who were dismayed at Tom for not creating a unified Republican ticket," she said. "So I'm concerned that if we have too many unhappy conservatives and moderates, they won't turn out for Tom. And I don't want to see the district go to a Democrat."

Rogers said she will not decide on the race until Schwarzenegger signals whether he considers McClintock, a fiscal expert, an ally in his effort to fix the state's budget mess. She said she must also conduct opinion polls to see how much support remains for McClintock in their district, which stretches from Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County through much of Ventura County and beyond Lompoc in Santa Barbara County.

"My hope is that the numbers look like Tom can win," she said. "If we think he can win, I'll get behind him."

Last year, Rogers lost the congressional race to Rep. Lois Capps, a moderate Democrat, after spending about $1.5 million -- roughly half from her own pocket.

Another potential candidate for McClintock's seat, former Assemblyman Brooks Firestone, said several party moderates have asked him to consider running, a prospect he rejected Wednesday.

"The Republican Party should be disappointed that there were two Republican candidates in the final days of the recall, and that could have changed the results of the election," the Santa Ynez Valley vintner said. "So I think it would be reasonable for someone to challenge him, but it won't be me."

He praised Rogers as a "very, very viable candidate."

McClintock said he is not daunted by the potential challenge, even though his 19th Senate District has changed substantially since he was elected in 2000. It then included a conservative chunk of the San Fernando Valley that has since been replaced by more moderate parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"I don't know who will run, and I don't care," McClintock. "I feel very solid in this district. But I never take an election for granted. I never take my constituents for granted."

He said he has about $280,000 in his Senate treasury, but that the $2 million he raised in the gubernatorial race has been spent.

Whoever wins the GOP primary would seem to be the odds-on favorite to win next fall's general election, because Republicans make up 42% of registered voters while Democrats are 37%.

But Rogers said her congressional race -- an overwhelming loss to a moderate Democrat -- taught her a lesson. Only about half of moderate Republican women backed her, she said, because they had developed long-standing alliances over issues with the traditionally Democratic office-holders in Santa Barbara.

One of those, Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, said Wednesday that she, too, is considering a run for McClintock's seat.

During the recall campaign, McClintock dismissed the prospect of revenge by Republican leaders over his refusal to bow out.

"Actually, it's the rank-and-file Republicans I've always drawn my support from," he said on election day. "I'm not very fond of the country club wing of the Republican Party."

McClintock's standing seemed to increase among voters of all stripes during the campaign as they came to respect his mastery of complicated issues and his refusal to step aside for an untested actor.

Indeed, he emerged from two decades of obscurity on the back benches of the Legislature to become an eloquent voice for right-wing politics in California and across the nation.

That is why independent analysts said the GOP would be crazy to take McClintock on as Schwarzenegger tries to figure how to work with the state lawmakers to balance next year's budget.

"If they're smart, they'll make Tom McClintock their best friend," said Barbara O'Connor, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento.

O'Connor said McClintock was the candidate voters praised most often in opinion polls for his experience and integrity, and who they thought was best qualified to be governor.

"He ended the campaign with higher favorables than Arnold Schwarzenegger," O'Connor said. "And for this to be seen as a legitimate Republican victory, going forward in a positive way, you cannot take out the conservative wing of the party."

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