Naylor Stuns Antonovich in Vote of GOP Conservatives

Times Political Writer

California’s conservative Republican activists are divided over whom to back in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, based on a vote taken Sunday at the annual convention of the California Republican Assembly, the state’s conservative wing.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a 20-year member of the group, was expected to lead delegate voting--if not yet an outright endorsement--but he got an unpleasant surprise as another candidate, Assemblyman Robert Naylor (R-Menlo Park), got 139 votes to Antonovich’s 120 on the seventh and final ballot.

For Naylor, who has little money and low ratings in statewide opinion polls, the vote--while not the two-thirds needed for an endorsement--was a moral victory in his effort to present himself as a viable U.S. Senate candidate from Northern California.

Reward for Hard Work


“This just shows that hard work and grass-roots politics pays off,” said a beaming Naylor. “This primary may come down to everybody’s second choice. I think I still have a chance.”

Antonovich, who has more money and shows up better in statewide polls than Naylor, said he was pleased just to finish second. But the disappointment was obvious on the faces of his aides, who worked hard at the convention to nail down an endorsement from the 300 conservative delegates.

“I was surprised at how strong Bob Naylor was,” said Antonovich aide Kathleen Crow.

Some of the delegates said privately that they were irritated at the pressure put on them by the Antonovich forces.


And in the infighting atmosphere typical of activist conventions, there was also a furious reaction by some of the delegates when an Antonovich supporter took a tape recorder into a key committee meeting--a major breach of etiquette in the organization.

Votes for Herschensohn

Also scoring high with the California Republican Assembly delegates in the early voting was former broadcast commentator Bruce Herschensohn of Los Angeles, who placed second to Antonovich on the first couple of ballots.

Under the rules, Herschensohn was eventually eliminated as the voting continued and a majority of his delegates then moved toward Naylor to make sure Antonovich did not win the group’s endorsement.


Does an endorsement by the California Republican Assembly matter in the modern world of California politics, which is dominated by television and high-powered political consultants?

Yes, said former California Republican Assembly President Steve Frank. He explained that although an endorsement was more important in local races because it activates vital volunteer help, it also sends a signal to activists and some contributors in a statewide race.

“It’s a point of pride,” said another member.

The organization, which was founded in 1933, is not known for picking winners in U.S. Senate races.


Not for Wilson

For example, no California Republican Assembly-backed candidate has been elected to the Senate in 20 years. In 1982, the group gave only eight votes to Pete Wilson, who went on to win the Republican nomination and the general election.

This year’s best-financed Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos, received only eight votes Sunday. Zschau is a fiscal conservative but some of his votes on defense and social issues mark him as a moderate in the California Republican Party.

He received polite response to his remarks here. But perhaps more significantly for him, his nomination in the voting was seconded by Cathy Ferrar, president of the California Young Republicans. Zschau contends that the California Republican Party is much younger these days as a whole.