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Candidate hoped to shake up the dialogue, but even that's a long shot

Mickey Kaus wants to blow up Democrats' ties to organized labor and dodging of immigration reform. He'd be happy to get 5% of the primary vote; his opponent, Sen. Boxer, forgets he's even in the race.

June 06, 2010|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Mickey Kaus is pretty jolly for a guy who is about to go down in flames in his first political run. Before leaving his ridiculously messy Venice apartment for lunch on Abbot Kinney Boulevard around the corner, he jokes that his friends told him not to allow a reporter in because "it's too bachelor."

Too bachelor? Overly kind. Too post-police raid is more like it.

But Kaus has bigger things to worry about than housekeeping. One of the original political bloggers — his Kausfiles was a popular feature on — Kaus is waging a gadfly primary campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer. He is the first California candidate to be designated "blogger" on the ballot, so you could say his is a historic candidacy.

Two things got Kaus worked up enough to go through the hassle of mounting an actual, legal campaign: The Democrats' fealty to labor unions, which he believes cripples industry and is wrecking schools, and the party's refusal to deal seriously with immigration reform because, he says, it is too busy pandering to Latino voters.

He is hoping to move the "silent majority of moderate Californians." Silent majority? Really?

"I use it ironically," replies Kaus, as any self-respecting baby boomer who lived through Watergate must. "The 'unheard' majority."

So far, federal records show Kaus has raised about $32,000, which he is spending as fast as he can before the Tuesday primary, buying time on TV stations, including the History Channel, and radio news outlets in Los Angeles and San Francisco. (It takes more effort than you might think when your campaign consists of you and a recent college graduate named Ted.)

Kaus reckons he's done about 20 media interviews. He'll be thrilled if he gets more than 5% of the vote.

So why bother?

"To start an argument," he says. "I have talked to three or four Democratic Party groups deciding who they are going to endorse. One, in Mount Washington, had a lot of Latinos and they came at me hammer and tongs about immigration, and that was great. They were passionate. I listened, I learned stuff. That's what the idea of the campaign is … 'cause it wasn't an argument we were having before."

Also, Boxer drives him a little crazy. "Boxer is a cliche, lock-step liberal on everything," Kaus says. "Maybe I am a cheap date, but it wouldn't take much of a glimmer of individuality to convince me that somebody was worth keeping in office."

Boxer, for her part, does not appear to be worried. On Saturday, after she toured a new fire station at LAX, she said she had forgotten he was running against her.

His 30-second TV ad — an entertaining homage to, or rip-off of, a 1990 Senate ad for Minnesota's Paul Wellstone — features Kaus talking fast with quick cuts between locations — his mom's house, a closed auto plant in Van Nuys, the U.S.-Mexico border. "Unlike my opponent Barbara Boxer, I don't have $10 million, so I am gonna have to talk really fast."

In the same spirit, here are a few quick facts about Kaus, who is sometimes described as disheveled but is well-groomed, balding and attractive in a Robert Klein kind of way:

He's 58 and has never been married. He graduated from Beverly Hills High, Harvard and Harvard Law. He clerked for California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk when his father, Otto Kaus, was a presiding judge on the California Court of Appeal, but claims it was not nepotism because he asked Mosk for work while his dad was on vacation. He worked at the Federal Trade Commission. He left law for journalism. He went to work for the Washington Monthly. He became passionate about welfare reform. He worked at the New Republic, Newsweek, the New Republic again, Newsweek again, wrote a book on how to fix liberalism, wrote the Chatterbox feature for Slate when the Lewinsky scandal had everyone in its grip, then began blogging in 1999.

"I spent a year and a half in every journalistic institution on the planet," says Kaus. "I have the resume of an alcoholic."

But that's a good thing these days, he adds. "Shows you are entrepreneurial and flexible. Not a tree hugger."

In response to a quizzical look, he rephrases: "Somebody who doesn't want their cheese moved. I don't know corporate lingo. That's why I hate listening to Carly Fiorina," he says, invoking the former Hewlett-Packard chief who is leading the Republican pack in the race to take on Boxer in the fall. "She talks all this corporate language and that seems insane to me."

This from a guy who describes his misbegotten decision to attend law school as "a tragic misallocation of resources."

If anyone is looking for evidence that Kaus is a flip-flopper, look no further: In college, Mr. Anti-Union picketed a Cambridge bar that would not allow its waitresses to unionize. The main reason for the change? "I am a car nut. I love cars and the stuff that the UAW and General Motors put out for three decades was just crap." (He's driving his mom's Volvo these days because his 1991 Nissan 300ZX — with a "Kerry Haters for Kerry" bumper sticker — is not running.)

Anyway, after he loses on Tuesday (sorry, Kaus fans, but it's just that certain), he's not sure what he will do. His editor at Slate had told him he could keep writing Kausfiles while running, but, seeing dollar signs, Kaus opted to create a campaign blog, with a link to donate.

"I thought my readers would naturally want to contribute," he says. "My blog readership has been cut by two-thirds. It didn't work."

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