They Face Uphill Fight to Unseat Veteran Democrat : Once Again, Beilenson Doesn't Lack Opponents

Times Staff Writer

Over the years, Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana) has attracted various Democratic as well as Republican opponents who felt the veteran lawmaker was vulnerable. It looks like 1988 will be no exception.

But even Beilenson's would-be opponents acknowledge that they face an uphill challenge to unseat a 12-year congressman who has spent much of his adult life in state and federal elected offices and won two-thirds of the vote against spirited GOP opposition in 1986.

Val Marmillion, a political and public-relations consultant active in the Westside gay and liberal communities, is considering a primary campaign against Beilenson, whose sweeping 23rd District extends from Malibu and Beverly Hills to the western San Fernando Valley.

"We're looking at it very seriously," Marmillion said Monday. "We'll run a high-profile, cause-oriented campaign."

Marmillion, 37, of West Hollywood described himself as a progressive activist who would fight for increased support for AIDS education and research and the arts and cultural programs. If elected, he would join the few avowed homosexuals in Congress.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, financial consultant Jim Salomon, who was Los Angeles County director of Republican Ed Zschau's unsuccessful 1986 U.S. Senate campaign, is taking steps to seek his party's congressional nomination.

"I think it's going to happen," Salomon said of his candidacy. Only a lack of support by GOP contributors and volunteers would prevent his running, he added.

Salomon, 32, of Beverly Hills characterized Beilenson as "a guy who doesn't understand what makes America work. He believes what makes America work is legislation and regulation. I believe what makes America work is a thriving free-enterprise system."

Neither Marmillion, who has run political campaigns as a consultant, nor Salomon, who has worked in them as a volunteer, has ever sought public office. Each refused to estimate how much money he would need for a viable challenge.

Beilenson, 55, said he would not respond to the prospect or comments of potential challengers until they formally enter the race.

The liberal and sometimes-maverick Democrat has a formidable advantage in recognition in an expansive district that makes it difficult for a newcomer to become known. Beilenson has represented at least part of the moderately Democratic district since 1962, when he was first elected to the Legislature, where he served 14 years as an assemblyman and state senator.

Beilenson has been a leading House advocate of public financing of campaigns--an unpopular position among colleagues--has taken the politically unpalatable position of advocating higher gasoline, cigarette and liquor taxes to close the federal budget deficit, and has sponsored legislation that established the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

He also serves on the House Rules Committee, which sets the terms of debate on every bill that goes before the full House.

Beilenson trounced two poorly financed primary challengers in 1986 before swamping his GOP opponent, attorney George Woolverton, although Woolverton outspent him. Woolverton says he considered running again this year but recently decided not to wage another underdog campaign.

Marmillion, a partner in the Westwood consulting, marketing and public-relations firm of Hunt-Marmillion Associates, claims an insider's knowledge of campaign techniques. Most recently, he served as campaign director for U.S. Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), who staged an upset victory in 1986.

His firm has also handled numerous public-awareness campaigns on AIDS, the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome that has hit the gay community especially hard. In addition, Marmillion has served on the board of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance.

"Many Democrats would like to see stronger leadership for the causes they feel are important," Marmillion said. "The AIDS caseload is critically high in the district, and the district's congressman should therefore play a more activist role in seeking money for research and care and more actively participate in public education."

A Louisiana native who moved to West Hollywood in 1980, Marmillion said he will weigh the possible impact of his homosexuality on voters before deciding whether to run. "It's one of the issues," he said.

Salomon, who has his own financial-consulting business, moved to Los Angeles from Dallas in 1984. He said he opposes Beilenson on taxation and government regulation and supports higher spending for national defense.

Republicans covet Beilenson's seat because GOP registration in the district is near 35%--the threshold they believe is necessary for one of their candidates to have a chance at winning. This guideline is based on the tendency of a higher proportion of registered Republicans than Democrats to turn out statewide.

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