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Local Elections : GOP Primary Battle May Aid Peace’s Reelection Bid

Times Staff Writer

When Republican strategists started mapping plans for their effort to defeat two-term Democratic Assemblyman Steve Peace of Chula Vista, they didn’t delude themselves into thinking it would be easy.

But never, they figured, had there been a better opportunity.

GOP voter registration was growing in the district that voted more than 60% for Ronald Reagan two years ago. And a well-publicized Capitol corridor shouting match involving Peace and a powerful, elderly senator had caused what Republicans saw as a major embarrassment for the Chula Vista Democrat just before the Legislature adjourned last year.

But the Republican leaders didn’t count on one thing. They first have to settle a nasty little fight of their own before taking on the 33-year-old film producer, who rose rapidly to a party leadership position after he was elected in 1982.

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Chula Vista business machines retailer Tom DuBose, 54, the GOP leaders’ anointed candidate to challenge Peace, faces longtime local party activist Jay Martin, 30, in the only contested Republican primary among the seven legislative races in San Diego County.

The primary race could become bitter, with Martin characterizing DuBose as a Johnny-come-lately picked by Sacramento computer wizards with no human feelings for the district, while DuBose, who is favored, paints Martin as a vengeful political has-been being pushed by his mother to get even with party leaders while making “his last hurrah.”

Until two days before the deadline for declaring candidacy, Martin was working in the DuBose campaign. He quit, he said, because he suspects DuBose isn’t really committed to conservative causes and because “he just wouldn’t listen to me.”

Both local and state party leaders were surprised when Martin, a county Republican Central Committee member, filed as a candidate for Peace’s Assembly seat.

“We made substantial efforts” to talk him into changing his mind, said Assemblyman John Lewis of Orange, who is in charge of campaign efforts for the Assembly Republican Caucus.

After that failed, the caucus, which rarely makes endorsements in contested primaries, decided to publicly back DuBose against Martin. “Jay (Martin) is just not a serious candidate,” Lewis said.

But Martin, who along with Ella Martin ran on an unsuccessful mother-son slate for the Oceanside School Board in 1979 and ran a last-minute write-in campaign to challenge Peace two years ago, says he is not only serious but is better equipped to beat Peace than political novice DuBose.

“I admit to being a political novice. I never claimed to be anything else,” DuBose said. “But in this case I think it is a real asset. . . . I think we’ve certainly had enough lawyers” in the Legislature.

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Republican strategists say they will probably pump $300,000 to $400,000 into his campaign if DuBose wins the primary. If Martin wins, Lewis said, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Martin said he can raise enough money locally to run a viable campaign against Peace--without the party leaders’ help. “I can beat Steve Peace with $50,000. I can beat him in the dirt with $50,000.”

Both Republican candidates say they are running a grass roots, door-to-door campaign and will send out several mailings before the June 3 primary election. Whoever wins will have an uphill battle with Peace, who as an incumbent with close ties to Democratic leaders in Sacramento probably can match Republican campaign efforts dollar for dollar.

“I really haven’t focused on the general” election, Peace said. “I’m sure whatever I need to do I’ll be able to do it. I don’t anticipate spending that kind of money.”

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The sprawling 80th Assembly District includes National City, Chula Vista and San Ysidro and all of Imperial County. Democrats hold a slight majority, but voters frequently demonstrate their conservatism.

Republican strategists say DuBose--who is fluent in Spanish, half-Hispanic, a veteran, a grandfather and the owner of his own successful business--is the perfect candidate to take on Peace, the feisty, sometimes abrasive, often humorous incumbent who produced and starred in the successful but critically maligned cult classic, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”

Peace’s National City-based film company, Four Square Productions, is planning a sequel to the movie, which is a disaster spoof in which giant tomatoes go on a murderous rampage. Peace plays a paratrooper who fights against them.

But Peace, the Assembly’s majority whip, said he is concentrating now on winning reelection to the legislative seat he first won in 1982.

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Peace, who claims significant support among Republicans in his district, said the DuBose campaign is “totally a Sacramento-based operation.”

“It is ironic, since Jay (Martin) has been around and DuBose is the newcomer,” said Peace, who said he has no preference which candidate he faces.

DuBose announced he was interested in running against Peace a few days after the Capitol shouting match that pushed Peace into a weeklong feud with state Sen. Alfred Alquist (D-San Jose), the 77-year-old Senate Budget Committee chairman who has been a legislator for 23 years.

A senator who witnessed the incident, which occurred after Alquist’s committee killed a Peace bill to appropriate $3 million to equip school buses for handicapped children, said Peace angrily confronted Alquist and called him a “senile old pedophile.” Peace admits he was excited when he approached Alquist but said he called him a “pitiful little creature.” The senator who witnessed the incident has since said he might have heard wrong.

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But regardless of the words, senators found the angry confrontation unbecoming and just about everyone in the Legislature blamed Peace for touching it off. For several days, senators threatened that the upper house would not pass any bill with Peace’s name on it.

Eventually, Peace apologized. Later, most of the score of bills he had pending in the upper house were approved.

Peace said his Republican opponent--whoever it is--is welcome if he wants to use that incident in their campaigns. Voters admire his aggressiveness and the zeal with which he pursues causes, he said.

DuBose and party leaders say they are confident he will be the nominee. In a race between Martin and Peace, he said, “we’d really see some kind of circus.”

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