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Tom Campbell leaves California governor's race, enters Senate contest

The moderate Republican will now seek his party's nomination to oppose incumbent Barbara Boxer. His foes include former Hewlett Packard chief Carly Fiorina and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

January 15, 2010|By Seema Mehta
  • U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell is greeted by supporters at an L.A. news conference.
U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell is greeted by supporters at an L.A. news… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell's shift Thursday from the governor's race to the contest for U.S. Senate may have simplified things for him -- he will now be running against a single multimillionaire for the Republican nomination, instead of two.

But the road ahead remains rocky, as Campbell tries to persuade the conservative voters who control the party's primaries to overlook his moderate views on social issues and his recent support for temporary tax hikes to help balance California's budget.

Campbell is betting that GOP voters are so single-mindedly focused on the economy that this is the year ideology can be trumped by his record as a financially conservative former congressman who served as dean of one of the nation's best business schools.

"I have no doubt that the party will unite behind a candidate who is focusing so much on the fiscal side as I am now, because the crisis is so great, the need is so great," Campbell said in Los Angeles at the first of four announcement events across the state. "Really never in my lifetime has the fiscal condition of the United States been the primary issue, the fundamental issue."

But Campbell was having difficulty making that argument in the governor's race, and early indications were that he was in for a bruising ride in the new contest as well. In a slashing welcome to the race, a spokeswoman for candidate Carly Fiorina said Campbell's entry was not about what was best for California but "about satisfying Tom Campbell's quixotic personal ambition."

Campbell's departure from the race for governor leaves the Republican primary contest a battle between two multimillionaires, former EBay chief Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Each has dropped $19 million into the race, wildly outpacing Campbell's fundraising. Whitman has led in recent polls on the strength of a months-long advertising campaign.

His entrance into the race to replace three-term Democrat Barbara Boxer complicates what had been a clash between former Hewlett Packard chief Fiorina and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. DeVore has attracted support from many activist conservatives and has sought to portray Fiorina as moderate, while Fiorina has contended that she alone can beat Boxer.

Some believe Campbell's moderate positions on social issues will underscore Fiorina's conservative views -- she opposes abortion and voted for Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban. Fiorina will also be able to lump veteran politicians Campbell and DeVore together as part of the dysfunction in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

But Campbell's political base is in the moderate Silicon Valley, so he stands to threaten Fiorina on her home turf.

"The happiest camper around ought to be Chuck DeVore," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University. "The second-happiest ought to be Barbara Boxer."

Tellingly, DeVore welcomed Campbell into the race.

"I've known Tom Campbell for many years in public life and he has my respect as a substantive and well-intentioned participant in California politics," DeVore said in a statement. "We don't agree on much. . . . But we do agree that a vigorous discussion among Republicans on these matters is overdue."

Wonkish and affable, Campbell represented the Silicon Valley for 11 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and the state Senate, and served as the state's finance director under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also taught law at Stanford University and served as dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

"Training is not irrelevant to candidacy," he said.

Campbell acknowledged that he was unable to compete financially in the governor's race with his two wealthy foes.

"The path of public service and teaching is rewarding, but it does not afford one the ability to invest millions of dollars in a campaign for office," Campbell wrote in an e-mail to backers.

Money remains a challenge in the Senate race. Fiorina is not as wealthy as the competitors in the governor's race, but she has sunk $2.5 million into her campaign. Because of different rules for fundraising for federal and state office, Campbell will have to return every contribution he received for the governor's race and ask for new donations to his Senate campaign, an aide said. Before making his announcement, Campbell had lined up a slate of wealthy backers for the Senate race, including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

"If his campaign is actually able to raise $2 [million] to $3 million and get his message out, he could possibly be competitive," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, who is working for Whitman. "It's really contingent on his ability to raise money."

Campbell is also fighting history. He has never been elected to statewide office, and this race is his third attempt to join the U.S. Senate. In the 1992 GOP primary, he lost to a more conservative candidate who lost to Boxer. In 2000, he won the primary but was crushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Campbell said he learned lessons from those races.

"Perhaps in other campaigns, I might have focused on a dozen issues," he said. "Now I need to focus on one. . . . The fiscal side is huge, it is the future of our country, it is in jeopardy."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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