An Assembly race in Orange County seems like an odd place for a college basketball coach who became a legend in Las Vegas. But last month, Jerry Tarkanian played a minor role in the contest for the 72nd District seat by appearing at two fundraisers for a friend, Republican candidate Marty Simonoff.
Will "Tark the Shark" -- who coached the Nevada Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels for 19 years and led them to a national championship in 1990 -- factor into the June 6 GOP primary between relative unknowns, Yorba Linda Mayor Michael Duvall and Simonoff, a Brea council member?
In a race where there's general agreement on the issues, an appearance by someone with far more name recognition than either candidate could translate into a few votes that turn the tide.
"All candidates, not just lesser-known ones, are going to pull power from anyplace they can get it," said Fred Smoller, a Chapman University political science professor. "Every vote counts. How many races are won by a few hundred votes?"
John MacMurray, a La Habra teacher, is unopposed in the Democratic primary, and Brian Lee Cross, a contractor from Orange, is running as a Libertarian. But in the heavily GOP 72nd District -- which includes Brea, Fullerton, Placentia and parts of Anaheim, La Habra, Orange and Yorba Linda -- the Republican primary will probably decide who replaces termed-out Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher.
Duvall has aligned himself with a host of major Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell.
Simonoff, 55, a retired Huntington Park police captain, has endorsements from several police and fire departments, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby and a bevy of other local elected officials. But his most important relationship could be with Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist.
Gilchrist, whose group encourages citizens to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, has not officially endorsed Simonoff. But he has appeared alongside him at a few rallies and is quoted in campaign literature: "Marty Simonoff doesn't just talk about fighting illegal immigration, he has worked at it," referring to Simonoff's police work. "He literally risked his life to apprehend illegal immigrants who were rapists and murders."
Simonoff and Duvall have also emphasized more fiscal responsibility in state government and legislation that would ensure Proposition 42 gas-tax money is earmarked for road and freeway construction projects.
Simonoff and Duvall both believe immigration is the most significant issue in a district where more than half of the voting-age population is white and nearly half the registered voters are Republican.
"We need to immediately stop the influx of illegal immigrants now, find the ones who are illegal and ship them home," said Duvall, a 50-year-old insurance agent serving his second term on Yorba Linda's council. "It's what they don't pay in taxes that's killing us. They're parasites on our economy."
Simonoff, who retired from law enforcement in 1991 and is serving his third term on Brea's council, supports stronger border enforcement and opposes driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.
"I've seen illegal immigration firsthand as a police officer, and I know the effect it has on state and county governments, the schools and our healthcare system," he said. "So why should these people be rewarded for not playing by the rules?"