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Senate candidate maintains low profile but high poll results

While his GOP primary opponents have been canvassing talk radio and conservative groups across the state, Tom Campbell has been holding private fundraisers and focusing on the final weeks.

May 16, 2010|By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

In his quest to take on California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Republican Tom Campbell has managed an unusual feat — he has been the least visible of the three GOP candidates for Senate, and yet has led in almost every poll.

Take last week. Campbell's rivals in the June 8 primary, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine and former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, made dueling appearances on talk radio, sometimes popping up on several shows a day.

DeVore juggled his duties in Sacramento with talks before Republican and Tea Party groups in Fremont, Danville and Indian Wells before heading to San Diego for a weekend gathering of the conservative California Eagle Forum. Fiorina participated in Sacramento's Race for the Cure (a cancer fundraiser), teamed up with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn for a telephone question-and-answer session with voters, and rounded out the week by flying to an event in Arcata in far Northern California.

Campbell, by contrast, filled his week with private events: six fundraisers in three days, along with a sprinkling of editorial board meetings and interviews.

"It's fundraisers. I'm going to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions — any opportunity, focusing on the fundraising," Campbell said after ordering steak and eggs during a brief stop at a Denny's in Westwood.

Campbell's low visibility has in part been due to his continued teaching at Chapman University, where he is a law school professor. He just turned in final grades for the semester.

But much of it is driven by the need to raise money. Campbell has had trouble in that regard in past races, and the demand is even more pronounced in the Senate primary where he is competing with Fiorina, who has already given several million dollars to her campaign. Candidates are not required to release information about their campaign treasuries until late May, so it is not yet clear where any of the candidates stand financially.

With his five past terms in Congress and service in the Legislature, Campbell is better known across the state than the other candidates. Still, as many as a third of voters are undecided. All three GOP Senate candidates are laboring mightily to elevate themselves beyond a sideshow as their party's gubernatorial hopefuls batter each other with tens of millions of dollars in television advertising.

Campbell has been running ads on cable stations — not on broadcast channels — that contrast his views on limiting spending with those of Boxer. But his campaign decided to take the ads off the air for the coming week to conserve resources for the final push.

Fiorina has been trying to break through with ads on broadcast channels statewide that present her as a "battle-tested" conservative who would be the most viable candidate against Boxer. Trailing behind Fiorina and Campbell in polls and fundraising, DeVore has been marshalling his supporters through social media and plans both television and radio spots in the final weeks. A new ad featuring his endorsement by Rep. Tom McClintock (R- Thousand Oaks) airs on Fox News beginning Monday.

Last week, Fiorina injected another $1.1 million of her own money into the race, bringing her personal spending to $3.6 million. "Carly continues to raise funds and has also invested additional money into her campaign," spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said. "She is in this race to win."

Campbell consultant Richard Temple shrugged off any suggestion that his campaign was in financial trouble. The former congressman, he noted, just sent a biographical brochure to about a million Republican voters highlighting his fiscal conservatism and government experience.

"We're ahead. They have to catch us and so we're going to conserve resources and use them in ways that we think are effective," Temple said.

His financial standing may be open to question, but what is certain is that Campbell is expanding his public schedule. After many weeks with few, if any, public campaign events, he is heading to San Diego on Monday to meet with young professionals on national security issues.

Later in the week, he is planning events in Fresno, a speech to a business group in Sacramento and appearances in Los Angeles. Aides say they are also organizing a series of informal talks over coffee with voters as he travels around the state.

As Campbell tries to boost his profile, Fiorina and DeVore will continue to wrestle over the party's conservative voters, the majority of those expected to cast ballots in June.

DeVore has touted his backing from McClintock, a conservative standard-bearer in California, as well as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, whose networks DeVore hopes to tap for contributions.

Fiorina has highlighted endorsements from conservatives such as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as well as anti-abortion groups.

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