Orange County Elections : Sumner’s Write-in Campaign Targets LaRouche Effort
On one side is a 30-year-old technical writer and LaRouche Democrat whose campaign is based on eradicating AIDS and charges that his opponent is linked to organized crime.
On the other is Orange County’s 61-year-old Democratic Party chairman, a retired judge and former assemblyman, who calls his opponent’s accusation ludicrous and contends the philosophy of extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. is “evil” and “anathema” to Democratic ideals.
Ordinarily the Democratic primary in the 40th Congressional District would be of little interest. The district is overwhelmingly Republican in registration, the incumbent Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) has been in office for 10 years, and the area is expected to remain a Republican stronghold for years to come.
But the district’s Democratic primary this Tuesday has become a major showdown between LaRouche adherents and mainstream Democrats that has implications beyond Orange County. For both sides, the stakes are high.
If county Democratic Party Chairman Bruce Sumner wins in his long shot write-in campaign against LaRouche Democrat Art Hoffmann, “it will be a statement for Orange County and the nation that Democrats are tired of LaRouche,” said John Whitehurst, executive director of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County. The private Democratic organization is working to defeat Hoffmann and 13 other LaRouche Democrats running for statewide, congressional and central committee spots in the county.
And if Sumner loses? It will be a major embarrassment for mainstream Democrats, some party leaders said.
Some of those leaders had warned Sumner not to risk a write-in effort against Hoffmann, who will be the only Democrat listed on Tuesday’s ballot for the 40th seat. Explained one state Democratic Party official, “If it was uncontested, the Democratic Party wasn’t really to blame in a sense. It wouldn’t be a defeat.”
But with a write-in campaign, “there’s a really good chance he (Sumner) could lose,” the party official said. “Any write-in candidate has a next to impossible task.”
Ted J. Andromidas, Southern California campaign committee coordinator for LaRouche’s National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC), said a Hoffmann victory would send “a message to the Democratic Party that the policies of the party, especially that of the Orange County leadership, must become more in tune with reality.”
One indication that both sides are putting a high priority on this race is that Sumner and LaRouche himself are to debate via satellite television at 10 a.m. this morning with Sumner speaking from a Los Angeles studio and LaRouche from a studio near his Leesburg, Va., retreat.
Sumner, contending that Hoffmann and the other LaRouche candidates were merely parroting LaRouche’s views, on May 22 formally challenged the Leesburg, Va., writer to debate him on whether or not LaRouche belonged in the Democratic Party.
Last Friday, in a rambling nine-page mailgram, LaRouche accepted, but on slightly different terms: the debate is to cover what Democratic Party policy should be from 1986-1988.
LaRouche, an announced Democratic candidate for president in 1988, offers a platform that includes identifying and quarantining AIDS victims, a laser-beam defense and increasing steel production. He has also denounced public figures like Queen Elizabeth and the Rockefeller family as allegedly linked to drug trafficking and organized crime.
In an effort to bolster his 1988 bid for president, LaRouche claims to be backing thousands of Democrats across the country for public office--from central committee posts to congressional seats--for this election year.
Although Sumner and other Democrats initially warned that LaRouche campaigns would receive generous funding from LaRouche’s wealthy organization, the candidates and their backers said their campaigns are poorly funded.
“Anybody who indicates that we provide funds is just wrong,” Andromidas said. “The NDPC provides intelligence and information to the candidates. But they did the campaigning.”
In Orange County, most of that campaigning has been at shopping centers or post offices where LaRouche candidates have circulated an initiative calling for identification and quarantining of AIDS victims plus research on the disease. The initiative is being distributed by PANIC (Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee).
Campaign Cost $500
Hoffmann, for instance, said his campaign for Congress cost no more than $500 and consisted of circulating the initiative and passing out flyers denouncing Sumner at local shopping malls.
“I don’t want to be caught in the trap of playing the political game . . . with the mailers and the potholders and the refrigerator magnets. Let the other guys do that,” said Hoffmann, who spent the weekend before the election at shopping malls in Brea and Mission Viejo circulating a flyer that claimed Sumner was linked to “DOPE INC.” and organized crime.
As the only Democrat listed on the ballot in the 40th congressional race, Hoffmann is optimistic that his low-budget campaign will work. “I got a better than 50-50 chance to win,” he said Saturday.
Fearing that Hoffmann could be right--and mindful that two LaRouche candidates won unexpected victories earlier this year in the Illinois Democratic primary--Sumner has mounted a $50,000 write-in campaign against Hoffmann. He was also concerned that, if Hoffman won, he would automatically win a seat on the party’s central committee and become the party’s standard-bearer.
With mailers, phone banks, newspaper ads and blue refrigerator magnets with his name on it, Sumner hopes to persuade mainstream Democrats to write in his name on their ballots Tuesday and disregard Hoffman’s candidacy.
“My whole theory--and if it’s wrong, we lose--is, if people know that Hoffman is the LaRouche candidate, they won’t vote for him,” he told campaign volunteers Saturday, during a “brown bag” lunch and organizing session in Huntington Beach.
On a sunny backyard patio, Sumner explained that volunteers can legally stand 100 feet from the polling booths Tuesday, distributing an orange card that reminds Democrats to write in Sumner’s name.
Sumner is expecting 250 volunteers near polling places Tuesday to help with a campaign that requires voters not only to remember his name--which will not be listed anywhere inside the polling booth--but also to write it in on the ballot and then to vote for him.
The process is complex but Sumner is hoping that if voter turnout is low--possibly as little as 30% in this district--those who do vote will be educated, activist Democrats who will vote the main party line.
Atoning for Failure
Sumner believes the campaign is a way of atoning for the party’s failure to recruit a mainstream candidate in the district. Because of the odds favoring Republicans, no Democrat was eager to file for the 40th seat and face a certain loss to a Republican in November. When LaRouche Democrat Hoffmann filed for the primary, party leaders didn’t even notice he was unopposed on the ballot until late March, about two weeks after the filing deadline. “He slipped by us,” Sumner said at the time.
As Orange County Democratic leaders began looking at their own ballot, they discovered other LaRouche candidates, including Maureen Pike, a candidate in the 39th Congressional District; Marion Hundley, vying for the 67th Assembly seat; Peter Dimopoulos, a candidate for the 64th Assembly seat, and 10 more LaRouche candidates for Democratic Central Committee seats.
However, all the candidates except Hoffmann have drawn Democratic opposition.
For all the concern over LaRouche candidates, their campaigns in Orange County have been largely invisible.
The only major controversy came last month when Hoffmann, during the taping of a television interview, claimed that Sumner’s campaign was backed by “organized crime circles.” Sumner angrily denied the accusation and denounced Hoffman, saying he was an irresponsible candidate.
Hoffmann on Saturday said he had hoped for a more substantial campaign. He explained that he had designed the artwork for large signs for himself and several other LaRouche candidates, but never had the time or money to finish the project. Also, Hoffman said, he had been hoping to show small groups of voters a LaRouche slide show on economics and AIDS but because of time spent circulating the PANIC initiative, “I just didn’t have the time.”
Hundley, the LaRouche candidate for the 67th Assembly District in east Orange County, said he too had been working on the PANIC initiative until last week and didn’t have enough time to campaign. Since last week, “I’ve been resting,” the retired electrical engineer said.
Some mainstream Democrats have been encouraged by the LaRouche candidates’ low-profile. For example, Democrat Jo Marie Lisa, a candidate for the 64th Assembly District in north Orange County, said her LaRouche opponent Peter Dimopoulos “hasn’t shown up at most Democratic functions.”
While Lisa said she initially spent time warning voters about LaRouche, lately, “I’ll be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. . . . He espouses all the Lyndon LaRouche rhetoric and I want to talk about issues that affect the Assembly district--the McColl dump site--getting that cleaned up--day-care centers and education.”
Although Dimopoulos may have an edge because he is listed first on the ballot, Lisa said, “his name is difficult to pronounce and it’s foreign sounding. I think the reverse of what happened in Illinois will happen here.”
In the Illinois primary, some observers believed that LaRouche candidates won in part because they had familiar sounding names, like Hart and Fairchild. The names of the mainstream Democrats who lost were Sangmeister and Pucinski.
Still, LaRouche candidate George Hanna, a Huntington Beach tool and die maker who is running for the Democratic Central Committee, said he didn’t believe he needed to spend much money or work hard in his campaign. Hanna, a LaRouche delegate to the 1980 Democratic convention, has run for the school board twice and city council once and believes his name is well-known.
“It’s a citizens’ campaign,” he said. “I am one of the LaRouche people and we go from person to person” to campaign.
“You know what we did in Illinois,” Hanna added. “We spent $250 and we swept the state. Money don’t mean anything eventually.”