CHRIS COX VS. BILL CLINTON BY PROXY
Ten months before the March 2004 primary in California, the Republican race to pick a successor to GOP Assemblyman John Campbell in Orange County is swiftly emerging as the Golden States most ideologically-charged election contest. With Campbell “termed out” after six years in the assembly and running for the seat of outgoing Republican State Sen. Ross Johnson, the Republican contest for his 70th Assembly District seat is fast drawing more media attention than any political race in the state save the attempt to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (see accompanying story).
Why such interest in a nomination fight for an Assembly seat? In large part because of the background of one of the two leading contenders Cristi Cristich, founder and chief executive officer of a high-tech firm and, most significantly, a supporter of Bill Clinton for President in 1996. Bill Clinton? Yes: registered Republican and civic leader Cristich, during a 1996 news conference at her company headquarters, announced her support for the re-election of the 42nd President. “She praised the Democrats approach to womens issues, the economy, the environment and trade,,” recalled Steven Greenhut in the Orange County Register (May 25, 2003), “They [Republicans] should be concerned about Republicans like me, she said.”
To be sure, numerous well-heeled liberal Republicans in Orange County publicly bolted for Clinton over George H.W. Bush in 1992 and over Bob Dole in 96, and thus helped the Democratic nominee sweep California by landslide margins both years. Launched by Irvine real estate magnate Kathryn G. Thompson, the Republicans for Clinton made it clear that a good part of their reason for bolting stemmed from the GOP national convention in Houston in 92 and the national partys conservative platform-particularly, its strong pro-life plank. The renegades also saw themselves as a permanent movement within the Republican Party. Their long-term mission, as one of the group, former Orange County Supervisor Harriet Wieder, told me, was “to get ride of the crazies” in the GOP.
In large part, the Clinton Republicans operate through another well-funded organization they call the New Majority Group. One of its main targets has been stalwart conservative Tom Fuentes, chairman of Orange County Republican Party. Three years ago, with a massive six-figure budget, liberal Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer led a slate of candidates for the Republican County Committee with the expressed purpose of ousting Fuentes. The popular chairman, however, rallied supporters and. in the March primary that year, actually increased the ranks of his supporters on the county committee. In the race for assembly this year, Cristich voices regret for her endorsement of Clinton, calls it a mistake, and talks the conservative line on taxes and regulation, although never mentioning social issues). But many conservatives, noting her support from New Majority, dont trust her. Increasingly, they are rallying around a more mainstream alternative, one whose background includes service for Ronald Reagan and Rep. Chris Cox (R.-Calif.).
NO CLINTONS IN HIS CLOSET
At 41, Chuck DeVore has been involved in conservative politics since he started a College Republican Club while an honor student at Cal State Fullerton. As a Reagan appointee to the Department of Defense from 1986-88, the young DeVore was a liaison to Congress on foreign and military policy. He then served as senior assistant to conservative Rep.Cox in his Orange County office before joining the SM&A aerospace engineering firm in 1991.
“President Reagan and Chris Cox are two people Im proud to have worked with to make America strong again,” said DeVore, now vice president for communications at SM&A and as well as an Army National Guard major with three trips to Korea and riot duty in Los Angeles in 1992 under his belt. DeVore has also been active in the county party as a strong supporter of Fuentes on the county committee and chairman of its Ethics Committee. DeVore also headed Coxs Congressional Leadership Fund and, in that capacity, wrote more than $124,000 in checks to GOP candidates from 2000-2003.
Drafted by fellow conservatives to run for Irvine City Council last year, DeVore was outspent two-to-one by the incumbents but nonetheless built a strong grass-roots organization that drew battalions of eager volunteers who were motivated by seeing the candidate and wife Dianne holding signs at highway intersections. DeVores divisions nearly beat the odds, and he finished with more than 14,400 votes, coming within 150 votes of winning an at-large council seat.
Now, with an organization in place and increased name recognition (and respect) from his near-successful councilmanic race, DeVore is back and vying for nomination to the sssembly. While Cristich dismisses him as a “Johnny One-Note” because of his focus on her Clinton endorsement, DeVore speaks on a variety of issues: his strong pro-life stand, his promise of no new taxes in Sacramento, pledging instead to push for budget cuts to grapple with Californias $35 -billion deficit; and for enforcement of the laws dealing with illegal immigrants-an issue most Republican candidates in his state shy away from. DeVore is also Orange County co-chairman of one of the committees seeking to recall Gov. Davis
Although there are two other Republicans in the primary, it is DeVore-with the strong endorsement of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) State Sen. Pete Knight, and Assemblymen Ray Haynes and Bill Maze, and veteran conservative political consultant Wayne Johnson and Tim Clark quarterbacking his effort-who is emerging rapidly as the conservative “anti-Cristich.” Apostscript on New Majoritys 2000 effort to depose tom fuentes: Leader and assemblywoman Brewer lost her bid for a committee seat-to Chuck DeVore.
(DeVore in04, 4790 Irvine Blvd., Suite 105-191, Irvine, Calif. 92620; (714-730-7733)
HOW MCCAIN-FEINGOLD SPELLS MCGRAW
More than two years after he concluded a stormy term as Republican Party chairman of California, John McGraw reappeared on the state political scene last week. The name of the controversial former chairman, best known for his statement that “abortion is the issue of the century” and his turbulent relationship with party moderates, was used in a hard-hitting letter to over one million voters seeking signatures and money for the proposed recall of Gov. Davis.
But “Why useMcGraw?” Californians wondered, as the signer for Rescue California, the recall committee recently launched by Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) with $445,000 of his own money. With Issa ruling out a Senate race and making it clear he will be on the ballot as a gubernatorial candidate later this year if the recall qualifies, Would it not be logical for the congressman-candidate to get his own name out by signing the letters himself?
“We looked at it and the legal questions were just too great,” Issa political consultant Scott Taylor explained to me. He was referring to a little-known and somewhat quirky provision in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, whose constitutionality will soon be decided by the Supreme Court. With no laws governing the funding of a recall bid, said Taylor, “there is a chance that soft money will come in as a result of [Issas] letters. Since McCain-Feingold forbids Members of Congress to solicit soft money under any circumstances, we decided to get another signer of the letters.”
Taylor voiced confidence that there would be more than the 890,000 signatures required to place the questions of Daviss recall and who should replace him as governor on a statewide ballot this fall. “Weve submitted more than 175,000 signatures on petitions,” he said, referring to the work of Issas “Rescue California” Committee and not counting the 100,000-plus signatures turned in separately by another recall group headed by former State GOP Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian.
As much as the national media and the Clinton White House has tried to demonize him, Kenneth Starr remains a hero to conservatives and-at least in Northern Virginia-a political force. The former independent counsel, federal judge, and U.S. solicitor general will be the featured guest at a fund-raising event on behalf of Jeff Frederick, a conservative Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. The $100-a-head event will be held at the home of Jason and Patty Roe (Jason is top aide to conservative Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida), who tells me that “tickets are going like hotcakes” and “our house will be overflowing with contributors to Jeff.”