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O.C. Race a Wild Ride

Special primary to succeed Cox in the 48th Congressional District features 17 candidates and voters can choose outside their parties.

September 25, 2005|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

For 17 years, former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) represented one of the most Republican districts in Congress, after besting 17 other candidates. Now, 17 more are on the ballot to succeed him.

The result is a political free-for-all in coastal Orange County where candidates are struggling to capture the attention of District 48's 400,000 potential voters, including surfers and millionaires in Newport Beach, academics in Irvine and families in San Juan Capistrano.

Getting the most attention and campaign money are two well-known Republican politicians from Irvine: state Sen. John Campbell and former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer. They are fighting it out with campaign mailers, cable television ads, phone calls to voters and endorsements in an election expected to draw only the most committed voters.

"The early campaigning started when people were on vacation and getting ready for school, so people aren't focused on it," said political consultant Scott Hart of Newport Beach, who isn't working for any candidate.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 28, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Congressional candidate -- An article in Sunday's California section about the Oct. 4 special election to replace Christopher Cox in the House of Representatives said Marilyn Brewer, a Republican candidate, lives in Irvine. She lives in Newport Beach.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 02, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Congressional candidate -- An article in the Sept. 25 California section about Tuesday's special election to replace Christopher Cox in the House of Representatives said Marsha A. Morris, a Republican candidate, lived in Laguna Hills. She lives in Irvine.

Since Cox resigned Aug. 2 to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the campaigning has begun in earnest. The candidates will appear on an Oct. 4 special primary election ballot to replace him.

The election, though, comes with a twist. All candidates will be listed together, and voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party. If no one gets a majority, the top vote-getters from each of the five political parties advance to a Dec. 6 vote.

The appeals to potential voters are many: American Independent Party candidate Jim Gilchrist of Aliso Viejo, founder of a group of volunteers who set up patrols at the U.S.-Mexico border, attended this month's GOP conclave in Anaheim and welcomed help from Republicans who support his stand against illegal immigration.

Republican John Kelly, one of Cox's challengers in 1988 and the owner of a Tustin men's store, bashed the former congressman for becoming a millionaire during his time in office. Democrat Tom Pallow, a marketing consultant from Santa Ana, acknowledged that he may have performed political hari-kari in the wealthy district by advocating higher personal income taxes, which he said are necessary to balance the budget.

In a targeted move, attorney Steve Young, a Democrat from Newport Beach, has spent most of his money on cable ads aimed at the concentration of Democrats in Leisure World in Laguna Woods, who tend to have a relatively higher vote turnout.

Hoping to bolster her chances, Brewer sent mailers to Democrats with absentee ballot applications, arguing that she was a better fit for the moderate-minded district than Campbell.

And the state and county Republican parties, worried about Brewer's popularity among Democrats, swiftly passed rare pre-primary endorsements for Campbell. He also boasts an endorsement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Both Campbell and Brewer have spent significant sums of their own money -- $350,000 for Brewer, $250,000 for Campbell -- to help fund campaign mailers, cable television advertisements and phone calls to voters.

Campbell raised an additional $550,000 through mid-September, according to federal campaign reports, with about $110,000 from conservative political action committees. Brewer has collected $230,000, much from women's groups and activist groups supporting abortion rights.

Campbell has assumed front-runner status because, as an elected official, he already represents most of the district. Thanks to revenue from the sale of his car dealerships, he also has ample campaign cash.

Several candidates recalled his absence from a handful of forums where the rest of the would-be members of Congress hashed out such topics as the war in Iraq, the price of oil, education spending and illegal immigration.

"John Campbell refuses to stand in front of the very people whose vote he wants," Brewer said after Campbell skipped a candidate forum last week in Irvine sponsored by the city and UC Irvine.

Campbell said he didn't attend the forums because of his legislative duties and other campaign commitments. Voters are less interested in where he's been, he said, and more interested in where he stands on illegal immigration, taxes and the federal budget, and the war in Iraq and national security.

"We're doing everything we can, and we'll be walking precincts the weekend before the election," he said. "We don't have a lot of time."

If trends hold, somewhat less than 25% of voters are likely to participate in the special election, with many casting absentee ballots. The question of turnout took its own twist when the date for the election was set during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and the monthlong Islamic holiday of Ramadan, prompting outrage from religious groups.

County officials responded by setting up early voting locales around the district, which are listed on the registrar of voters website at www.oc.ca.gov./election/candidate/early.htm.

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