Phones are ringing like crazy and political door-knockers are out in force this weekend in coastal Orange County. But will anybody be home to get the last word on Tuesday's election to succeed former Rep. Christopher Cox?
State Sen. John Campbell of Irvine is wooing cable-television viewers with ads promoting his GOP credentials; former Assemblywoman Marilyn C. Brewer of Newport Beach has passed up the obligatory campaign photos with President Bush to tell viewers that the Republican president she admires most is Ronald Reagan; and maverick independent Jim Gilchrist is on radio attacking illegal immigration.
In recent days, the battle among 17 congressional wannabes has centered on Campbell and Brewer, two Republicans sharply divergent on social issues, and Gilchrist, who is courting GOP voters through his founding of the Minuteman Project, a group of volunteers who patrolled the Mexican border.
Campbell and Brewer have ramped up their campaigns in the closing days leading to Tuesday's special election, hoping to build on efforts to bank absentee votes.
If the election follows recent tradition, most voters in the 48th District will cast their ballots by mail. So far, about 40,000 absentee ballots had been returned -- about 10% of eligible voters in the district, which stretches from Newport Beach to San Juan Capistrano.
The seat has been vacant since Aug. 2, when Cox resigned to become chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Newport Beach Republican has not endorsed a successor.
Brewer launched a last-minute round of mail and television ads, which triggered a complaint by Campbell to the Orange County Republican Party's ethics committee that Brewer was misrepresenting his positions.
Brewer said in the campaign, for instance, that Campbell made $1 million day-trading energy stocks during the 2000-01 California electricity crisis. Untrue, replied the senator. He told the committee that his broker did the trading and provided statements on his investments 30 days later. Besides, he said, he lost money on his energy stocks.
The GOP committee censured Brewer -- a move she dismissed as hollow because Campbell received a rare pre-primary party endorsement and has been backed by its leadership. Still, the reprimand could hurt Brewer because GOP voters outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in the district.
As the campaign's final weekend loomed, Campbell's camp prepared to mount a massive push, hoping to garner more than 50% of the vote Tuesday to avoid a Dec. 6 runoff between the top vote-getters from each party.
Some 250 walkers were massing to visit the homes of Republican and decline-to-state voters in the district. The pitch has been that Campbell's record of conservatism and an endorsement by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger make him the best successor to Cox, who represented the district for 16 years.
"We think it's the biggest get-out-the-vote effort for a single candidate," said Campbell consultant Dave Gilliard of Sacramento. "People are coming from all over the country to help."
Brewer is focusing on phone calls and "tons of volunteers," said her campaign manager, Harvey Englander of Los Angeles. Calling should be more effective, he said, than knocking on the doors of voters who probably would be at the beach to escape the heat.
While predictions have been tough to find in an election with 17 candidates on the ballot, Englander provided one: Campbell would win among absentee voters, where two-thirds of those returned are from Republicans. But, Englander said, Brewer could prevail with the right mix of Republicans, Democrats and decline-to-state voters.
"Because we view her as a congresswoman for all the people, we have talked to all the people," Englander said.
Brewer benefited from a late assist from two independent campaigns on her behalf, including at least one mailer from the California Teachers Assn. and several from the Republican Main Street Partnership, a national group of GOP centrists that has said it would spend more than $100,000 urging voters to back her.
American Independent candidate Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, got some back-handed help from the Main Street group.
Its members paid for a radio ad criticizing Campbell for immigration votes in the Assembly -- including a 2001 vote to allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition that Campbell said he cast by mistake. The ad was seen as a way to help Brewer by souring potential Campbell voters.
Last week, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) endorsed Gilchrist because of his stance on illegal immigration. That triggered an angry call from Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County urging the Colorado Republican Party to expel Tancredo for disloyalty.
Campbell picked up support last week from one of the 10 Republicans in the race. Physician Don Udall of Corona del Mar, a member of the Arizona political family, dropped out to endorse Campbell. He said he hoped it would get Campbell votes and help him snag a majority.