Stanton's Waiting Game in 40th Dist. Race May Backfire

Times Political Writer

Orange County Supervisor Roger R. Stanton got a little impatient recently when he was asked once again when he would decide whether to run for the 40th District congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).

"It's more important for me to take my time to make up my mind on that," he said, "than (to worry about) the political people out there in the bushes saying, 'Why don't you make up your mind?' I'm certainly going to be more concerned about, number one, my family, number two, my constituents, and, lastly, the pseudo-political experts out in the brush."

But time is wasting, and some of the political experts, pseudo and otherwise, in Orange County say that putting off his decision may be an indication that Stanton has serious doubts about whether this year is the right time for him.

The longer he waits, the greater the chance his potential supporters will stray away to other candidates. The filing deadline for the June 7 primary is March 11.

It is true, as several of those close to Stanton have pointed out, that many of the supervisor's potential supporters are either waiting for the field of candidates to solidify or for Stanton to decide before they make their choice. Others will support more than one candidate.

"I know that a lot of people are laying in the weeds to see what Roger Stanton is going to do," said attorney and businessman Paul Hegness, a member of the $1,000-a-year GOP support group known as the Lincoln Club.

But it is also true that the competition for endorsements and money in this race is extreme and that it can be difficult to raise large sums of money for a congressional race because of the $1,000 limit under federal law on personal campaign contributions.

"Every day he waits, someone else commits to someone else," said one political observer who asked not to be identified.

Tantamount to Winning

Like all the other candidates who have announced so far, Stanton is a Republican. Getting the GOP nomination in the 40th District, one of the most heavily Republican areas in the nation, is tantamount to winning the seat.

The two strongest contenders in the race so far are Irvine City Councilman C. David Baker, 34, and Badham's opponent in the 1986 primary, Newport Beach businessman Nathan Rosenberg, 35.

Rosenberg announced his candidacy on Jan. 4, the same day Badham officially announced he would not seek a seventh term.

Although Rosenberg is unpopular with much of the GOP Establishment in the county because he dared to challenge the safe--if much criticized--incumbent two years ago, he has been preparing for the race since his loss to Badham. Already he has raised more than $300,000 and has signed on 315 volunteers.

For this he has tapped, in part, participants in the Forum, which was started by his brother, est founder Werner Erhard. The Forum connection was a liability for Rosenberg in 1986 and is expected to be an issue again this year.

In Rosenberg's corner are developers William Lyon and Kathryn Thompson, both members of the Lincoln Club.

As for Baker, he earned points in the GOP Establishment for graciousness--and for recognizing political realities--by deferring to state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) and staying out of the race until she decided not to run. Nearly everyone agrees that had Bergeson wanted to go to Congress she would have easily won the seat.

Baker is viewed in the Republican Party as a likable, moderate up-and-comer who is energetic and young enough to be able to get the all-important seniority in Congress that is needed to accomplish political goals.

Baker's Endorsements

He is acceptable to the party regulars, even those who are more conservative than he is. Now he is seeking endorsements--Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) and several local city council members already have signed up--and is fattening his campaign fund. Baker pulled off something of a coup when Orange County industrialist Arnold Beckman, 87, a respected GOP stalwart, wrote a letter to 2,000 Republicans asking their support for Baker.

On Friday, Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter Buffa, 39, announced his candidacy. Buffa said he has "solid commitments" for $150,000--about a third of the amount he said he needs.

Among the other candidates is senior assistant White House counsel C. Christopher Cox, 35. Cox was in Orange County and Sacramento all last week trying to garner support for a run.

There is a conservative wing of the party that would love it if Cox--a USC, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School graduate with impressive conservative credentials--could come up with the wherewithal to mount a credible campaign.

"If Republican elected officials could select him without the formality of elections, conservatives would say, 'This guy is fabulous. He should go (to Washington),' " one GOP leader said enthusiastically.

But Cox, formerly a partner in the Newport Beach office of the prestigious law firm of Latham & Watkins, has not lived in the district for two years and is all but unknown here. Also, he has never held elective office, and there are widespread doubts that he can raise the $750,000 he says he can--the minimum, observers say, that would allow him to pull himself out of anonymity and give him a chance at being elected.

Risk of Being 'Spoiler'

If it appears that he will not be able to go all the way in the campaign, party regulars are hoping that Cox will save himself for another race. Otherwise, as one GOP leader said, he runs the risk of merely being a "spoiler" who could drain enough votes away from Baker--whom they prefer over Rosenberg--to deny the Irvine councilman a victory.

Others who have announced they will run in the 40th District are Tustin City Councilman John Francis Kelly, 26; Charles S. Devore, 25, a Pentagon liaison to the National Security Council, and John Hylton, 42, of Newport Beach, an airline pilot who wants something done about both freeway and airway traffic.

Should Stanton, 50, choose to enter the field, he probably would be the best known by virtue of his current position, which he won in 1980 in a shoestring upset election against incumbent Philip Anthony. Stanton, then a Democrat, since has switched parties. He is a former Fountain Valley city councilman and mayor whose supervisorial district includes about a quarter of the 40th District, which covers the county's coastal area south of Newport Beach and reaches 22 miles inland.

In the one supervisorial election he ran for himself, in 1980 (he was unopposed in 1984), Stanton earned a reputation as a good campaigner. Since then, he has proven that he can raise a lot of money. Currently, Stanton has a $300,000 campaign fund, a substantial amount for someone who probably will face no opposition should he choose to run for reelection to the board this year.

While only about a third of it would be usable in a congressional election--because of restrictions on campaign contributions in federal races that do not apply at the state or county level--he probably could raise the rest of the $500,000 or so he would need to run.

Stanton's Potential

According to some local Democratic leaders, he also could draw the "pragmatic Democratic dollars" because he has kept on good terms with members of his former party, who are far outnumbered in the county by Republicans.

In some people's minds, all of this makes Stanton a formidable candidate.

"If nobody spent any money, Stanton would win," said Richard O'Neill of San Juan Capistrano, former state Democratic Party chairman.

Stanton's entry into the race would serve to further splinter the district into "favorite son" areas. While he would have a constituency in Fountain Valley and Santa Ana, Baker would have one in Irvine, Buffa in Costa Mesa, Kelly in Tustin and Rosenberg to some extent in Newport Beach.

"All of the sudden, you have the potential for real segmentation of the vote," said Mike Stockstill of the Irvine Co., which is supporting Baker. "The candidates will be running their races differently if he (Stanton) gets in than if he doesn't."

Stanton, known among his supporters as a man who carefully ponders such decisions, has a lot on his mind these days.

While he has long wanted his next political move to be to Washington, it was not to happen under his own timetable until at least two years from now.

"The timing is more important than taking the first opportunity," said management consultant Dan Miller, who was Stanton's chief of staff for five years. "Obviously, he would prefer a better time. I don't think he was necessarily ready at this point."

Running in 1990 would have several advantages, some personal and some professional. Probably most importantly, it would allow Stanton to have a "free ride"--to keep his seat on the Board of Supervisors while running for Congress. He is up for reelection this year and so would have to give up his job on the board, which he enjoys and which pays $61,942.40 a year, to run for Congress.

"Obviously, that is one of several considerations," Stanton said.

Looking ahead two years, several things might present another opportunity for Stanton. For one thing, the 1990 statewide reapportionment will not only change district lines but probably will result in Orange County gaining seats because of its population growth.

There is also the chance that, as with this year, a sitting congressman will choose not to run again. Circulating in political circles is a "bet on Bush" scenario for Stanton that goes like this: Vice President George Bush wins the GOP presidential nomination and appoints Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who is backing him, to a spot in his adminstration, opening up Dornan's seat.

"He's got to weigh whether this will be his only shot or whether things are unpredictable and something will occur in the future," Miller said.

Impact of Move

But, of course, nothing could open up for Stanton that would be as good as what is now before him. And, as the always blunt O'Neill put it, in his opinion if Stanton passes on the race this time, "he's finished--because he'll always be known as the guy who had a chance and didn't take it."

Among the other things that Stanton is weighing is the impact of a move to Washington on his family. He and his wife, Karen, have four children. The oldest, a daughter, is a college student, and their three sons, ranging in age from 10 to 14, are active in soccer and other sports.

Stanton said this week that he has been talking to friends in Washington to see what it is like to live there.

"I'm a California-raised boy," he said. "I've got to look at the fact they're not as blessed back there with weather and that sort of thing."

Of course, neither Stanton nor anyone else is suggesting that Stanton would make so important a decision as whether to run for Congress on the basis of weather. It is just one of the many considerations he is weighing. And Stanton is known as someone who ponders every detail before coming up with a final decision.

"He mulls things over--he almost stews," said one longtime friend who did not want to be identified.

As for Stanton, he said he will not rush his decision just to please those who are waiting. "I'll make up my mind in my time, not theirs, and for my reasons, not theirs," Stanton said.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday January 28, 1988 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction A caption under a photograph of Tustin Councilman John Francis Kelly in the Jan. 26 edition of The Times indicated that he was elected to that office in 1987. The correct year was 1986.
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