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The Favorite Son?

Times Political Writer

George Deukmejian a favorite son candidate in California’s 1988 presidential primary? Some Republicans are urging the governor to do just that so that the state can have more leverage at the GOP national convention. ' . . . If the governor controlled our bloc of delegates, then we could tell him what we are looking for in a President and he could make that point,’ notes Assemblyman Bill Leonard. But of course there is a risk Deukmejian must also consider: What if he should put his name on the primary ballot and lose?

Gov. George Deukmejian is facing a major political decision--whether to enter California’s Republican presidential primary in 1988 as a favorite son.

Though Deukmejian is not actively pursuing national office, some members of his party are urging him to run as a favorite son next year so that California, at least, can have more leverage at the GOP convention in New Orleans. Traditionally, favorite-son candidacies are a way for governors to become major players at their party’s national conventions, sometimes thrusting them into the vice presidential sweepstakes.

What makes this of more than passing interest is the fragmented nature of the Republican scramble to succeed President Reagan. It is possible, according to political professionals, that no dominant candidate will emerge from the 1988 GOP primaries, creating a situation that has become rare in modern politics--a presidential nominating convention that actually chooses a candidate, rather than simply ratifying the winner of the primaries.

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In that case, California could have a major say in the process. The state sent 176 delegates to the Republican convention in 1984, and the 1988 allotment--determined by the Republican National Committee--is expected to be as large.

“For the first time in years this could truly be an open convention,” said Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-Redlands), who is touting the favorite-son idea to the governor. “So if the governor controlled our bloc of delegates, then we could tell him what we are looking for in a President and he could make that point.”

Conversely, Leonard said, “If the governor does not run as a favorite son in our primary, we could go into the convention with no leverage at all because of our winner-take-all primary.”

Leonard was referring to the California Republican Party rule that awards all of the primary delegates to the top vote-getter. If that person is not the governor, Leonard fears that the state will simply be a spectator at a crucial convention .

Leonard has sent letters to 2,000 California GOP activists urging them to tell the governor that they want him to be a favorite son in 1988. Many of those getting letters will be delegates at next month’s state Republican convention in Sacramento, and the subject is expected to come up then.

“I just think this is the best way to go,” Leonard said in a telephone interview. “I like a lot of the candidates for President in our party, but I don’t know which ones can win in 1988. So with the governor as favorite son, California Republicans can wait until the convention to make up their minds.”

Republican consultant John Hix of Fresno said he thinks the situation argues strongly for a favorite-son candidacy because it could enhance party unity as the Republicans try to extend their control of the White House beyond Reagan.

“Deukmejian, as a favorite son, could maintain control of his own state rather than letting it become a bloody battleground in the primary,” Hix said.

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There is a risk, of course: Deukmejian could put his name on the 1988 California primary ballot and lose. With so many delegates on the line, such candidates as Vice President George Bush, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) are expected to mount serious campaigns in the state.

“Bush could say to the governor that California is just too important to pass up and they could go head to head,” Leonard said. “On the other hand, the vice president could decide that the governor is awfully popular here and say, ‘Let’s sit down to dinner after you win your primary.’ ”

California Republican Party Chairman Clare Burgener said Monday, “I have been urging the governor to run as a favorite son because it would give California enormous clout and save many millions of dollars in campaign money.” (He was referring to the possibility that other GOP hopefuls would choose not to campaign against the popular Deukmejian in the California presidential primary, opting instead to spend their resources in other states and court the California bloc later.)

Typically, the cautious Deukmejian is staying away from the subject for now.

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“The discussion of a favorite-son candidacy is premature at this point,” Deukmejian spokesman Kevin Brett said Monday. “It is a little too early for the governor to entertain the subject.”


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