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For Most, It's a Race on a Shoestring

As the election luminaries rake in donations, other candidates are struggling to make their voices heard.

September 11, 2003|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

Ivan Hall knows he's no Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's a denture manufacturer, not an actor. He lives in Redding, a Sacramento Valley town far from the mansions of Pacific Palisades. And his campaign for governor is being run on dental floss and a smile, not the budget of a minor motion picture.

Still, it stung a bit the other day when Hall, who's a member of the Green Party, held a meet-the-candidate luncheon at a Marie Callender's restaurant in his hometown. It was the biggest event of his campaign so far. And who was right across the street? None other than Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's wife, holding a fund-raiser at the Holiday Inn.

It was like the Oakland Raiders against a high school football team. And not the varsity.

Hall's guests paid $11 for their meal; Shriver's, a minimum of $150. Hall drew about 25 people; Shriver, about 300. Shriver landed on the front page of the local newspaper; Hall merited two sentences at the end of the story.

And when all was said and done, Hall had added $220 to his campaign, swelling his treasury to a grand total of $1,140. Shriver, meanwhile, had tossed a few more tens of thousands of dollars into Schwarzenegger's multimillion-dollar-and-growing coffers.

This is how it goes for the Ivan Halls of the recall campaign. A few top dogs are piling up enough money to buy the governor's mansion outright, were it for sale, while the other 130-odd candidates labor -- with varying degrees of effort and success -- to raise enough funds to cover their $3,500 filing fee.

Bob McClain, a civil engineer from Oakland who's running as an independent, said he entered the race with a sense of cautious optimism, "a little Walter Mitty fantasy" that maybe lightning would strike and he would, improbably, win.

Several weeks and $27 in fund-raising later, "I'm still optimistic," he said, "but a little bit of reality's starting to sink in."

Like most candidates, McClain launched a Web site (his and others can be found at, complete with information on how to donate to his campaign and an online store with lots of Bob McClain for Governor merchandise -- bumper stickers, lawn signs, T-shirts, mouse pads, coffee cups and so on.

So far, he's sold one $2 bumper sticker. His cost for producing the bumper sticker: $2.

McClain has lots of ideas about how to run California. Structural changes in the budget. Consumer privacy legislation. He's for gay marriage and medical marijuana; reluctantly supports cuts in education and health-care funding. But for now, it's safe to say, there will be no TV commercials touting any of McClain's ideas.

"If I got a little bit of money," McClain said, "I might send a postcard to everybody named Bob in the state, or everybody named McClain, or -- I'm a licensed engineer, so maybe to all the engineers."

If he got a little bit of money.

Some of the lesser-known candidates have raised more than others -- some, considerably more. Although he isn't famous outside Silicon Valley, venture capitalist Garrett Gruener of Oakland probably doesn't even belong in the category of minor candidate, given a campaign treasury of more than $750,000. Virtually all of that came from Gruener himself, although he hopes to emulate the online fund-raising success of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

Gruener, who founded the online search engine Ask Jeeves, has fittingly concentrated his campaign on the Internet, with perhaps the most elaborate Web site of any candidate. His big-league bank account will allow him to buy both television and radio advertising, with which he intends to spread the word about his Web site. Traditional advertising, he said, is too shallow.

How deep will he reach into his pockets? "I'm going to spend enough to get the message across to the people of California," Gruener said. A Democrat, he opposes the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, but believes he would be the best alternative should the governor lose his job.

Some candidates say they're proud to be running campaigns on the cheap. "I know it takes money to run a campaign," said Republican Robert "Butch" Dole of Milpitas, just north of San Jose. "But this election is all about the budget, and if you just go out and spend money like it's water, how are you going to control the budget?"

Dole is spending money like ... well, money. His campaign finance statement, filed last month with the secretary of state, showed that he had loaned his campaign $100 and had been given a digital camera valued at $399. That was it. His expenses: $0, unless you count his filing fee.

Dole even decided to forego placing a candidate's statement on the ballot, which he could have done for $10 a word. "I get long-winded," he explained.

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