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2 Dark-Horse Senate Candidates, Lacking the Means, Just Try Harder

Times Political Writer

If you ever thought running for the U.S. Senate was hard, try it when you have neither money nor another staple of the modern political campaign: name recognition.

As hopeless as it sounds, that’s what two Orange County men--one a Republican, one a Democrat--are doing this election year.

A consultant and part-time oceanography teacher at Saddleback College, John W. Spring, 47, of Santa Ana is one of 13 Republican candidates competing in the June 3 primary to be his party’s nominee for the Senate.

He lacks a campaign headquarters, campaign buttons and a campaign committee. He has never been mentioned in the polls. And, Spring concedes, he is nowhere near the front of a pack that includes Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), television commentator Bruce Herschensohn, state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) and former Black Panther leader and born-again Christian Eldridge Cleaver.

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Still, after 25 years of reading about foreign affairs and writing letters to the Defense Department, several secretaries of state and a string of U.S. Presidents dating back to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Spring says he has the background to win.

And, by writing more letters to newspapers and radio and television stations about his campaign, Spring has been working hard to sell himself.

“They say No. 2 tries harder but No. 13 tries the hardest,” he said. “By the way, I hope you folks spell my name right.” A previous news story on his campaign consistently referred to him as “Springs.”

On the Democratic side, Robert J. Banuelos, 33, of Santa Ana also is bucking the odds. Banuelos last week quit his job of 15 years as a telephone company technician in an effort to defeat Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) in the Democratic primary.

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The fact that Cranston has held his seat against Republicans and Democrats alike since 1968, had raised $3 million toward his reelection by December and planned to raise a total of $6 million by this November doesn’t faze Banuelos.

“I plan on winning,” said Banuelos, who declined to say how much money he has raised but said that most of it has come from savings.

To be sure, Banuelos said, sometimes, when he tells people that he is running for office, “they kind of laugh to themselves, ‘How dare you run against Mr. Cranston?’ ”

But tradition is on his side, Banuelos said. “Everyone has the right to run for office; that’s our constitutional right,” he said. Besides, as “an ordinary blue-collar voter,” Banuelos figures he should be able to oust Cranston, who he believes has been in office too long and is clearly “stagnant.”

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“Why didn’t the Democratic committee run someone else? Something doesn’t seem right,” the Tustin High School graduate said. Banuelos said he thinks that the Democrats should have an alternative.

Though Banuelos and Spring face the same hurdles, Spring may be slightly better known than Banuelos; he has been able to speak at two candidates’ forums. However, at one of those, a Feb. 21 candidates’ debate at the Balboa Bay Club, the circumstances were something less than positive.

Spring was denied the podium after program organizers from the California Republican Assembly’s Corona del Mar chapter said they were not sure that he had actually filed for office. (He had.) Frustrated that he was not allowed to debate the other candidates, Spring disrupted the program briefly.

In the program’s first hour, Spring had interrupted the panel discussion by standing up and shouting that he deserved a chance to speak. He then had advanced toward the speakers’ platform, where officials grabbed him by the elbows and hustled him from the room.

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Spring still thinks he was treated unfairly. At first, “I sat back and behaved myself,” he said, but after comments by two candidates “disturbed me,” Spring said he simply demanded his turn to respond.

Both Spring and Banuelos said they had learned from experience that, as lesser-known candidates, it was often hard to be heard.

For all their frustrations, both men have developed some creative campaign strategies.

Banuelos, for instance, has been visiting the county registrar’s office to study the so-called “major donor’s list,” the names of people who have given a county supervisor more than $1,622 in the last 48 months. Then he has written to those contributors.

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The results have been mixed, Banuelos said. People are interested, he said, but “they’re waiting to see me out in the public more. . . . They’re wanting to see if I’m good in the long haul.”

Spring, who is taking part in his first election since winning election to the Sunset Beach homeowners board in 1963, said he lacks the money for campaign buttons but has printed 2,000 business cards that say “John W. Spring for United States Senate.”

Like the major candidates, both Banuelos and Spring have issues to discuss. Banuelos is concerned about traffic, supports making English “the state language " and wonders “where is the (California) lottery money going?”

Spring, in detailed position papers, said he believes that the United States should continue to support the contras who are fighting against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and is concerned “about the insurgent war taking place in the Philippines.”

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For all the difficulties of their campaigns, both candidates said they are determined to win.

“Everyone seems to think you have to have a large amount of money to win a race, (that) you have to go out and buy the office. That’s not true,” Banuelos said. He has been walking precincts in the county and telling voters, “I’m an ordinary blue-collar voter.” And the response has been good, he said.

Spring called his homespun, low-budget campaign “the most difficult struggle of my life.” Still, “I’m enjoying it very much,” he said. Spring said he is learning to deal with rejection but that he doesn’t really want to think about this election in personal terms.

“I don’t think a politician ever wins an election,” he said. “The people win an election. They are the true winners.”

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