Group of Religious, Pro-Family Leaders Endorse Baker

Times Staff Writer

Satisfied that Irvine Councilman C. David Baker has answered allegations of adultery and reconciled his marriage, a coalition of religious and pro-family leaders on Friday endorsed Baker's candidacy in the 40th Congressional District.

The allegation of an extramarital affair has dogged Baker since it surfaced April 28 when an unidentified man confronted him at a candidates' forum in Newport Beach. Baker, a front-runner in the race, has acknowledged that his marriage has been "off course" in the past, but he has refused to say whether he had an affair with another woman.

At a press conference Friday, Phil Sheldon of the California Traditional Values Coalition said Baker has "dealt frankly" with the allegations and that he hoped his endorsement would "put the issue to bed."

Sheldon and leaders of several other pro-family and religious groups who met with reporters outside Baker's campaign headquarters in Irvine denied that Baker had sought their endorsement as a way to defuse the controversy swirling around his candidacy. Sheldon and the others said their groups represent several thousand conservative voters, many of them Christian fundamentalists, in the district.

They also said their endorsements were not endorsements by the groups themselves.

"We did it because Dave Baker represents our views," said Jo Ellen Allen, president of Eagle Forum, a conservative women's group that claims 10,000 members statewide. Allen endorsed Baker two months ago, and said Friday she was still supporting him.

Baker has made family values and his Christian beliefs a hallmark of his campaign, which is why his character and judgment have come under attack in the wake of the alleged affair.

Allen said she and leaders of such Orange County-based groups as Crusade for Life and the Orange County Round Table met with Baker last week to discuss the allegation. Baker reportedly told the group that he and his wife, Patty, had separated for about five months in late 1986, but had subsequently renewed their commitment to each other.

Allen said she and the others were satisfied he had overcome "his problem," commending him "wholeheartedly for loving his wife and keeping his marriage together." She said the couple demonstrated "great character in saving the marriage" rather than seeking a divorce. "I don't know too many marriages," she added, "that don't have rocky spots now and then."

Allen said drawing parallels between Baker and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who withdrew from the presidential race over allegations he had an affair with a Miami model, were unfair.

"We're not talking about Gary Hart, who had a lifetime of immorality," Ellen said.

Sheldon said he and others specifically asked Baker about the alleged affair, but did not get a direct answer. However, Sheldon said it is "not mandatory" that Baker respond "in the precise way the press is demanding. . . . That's just trying to count how many angels are on the head of a pin." He said later, "the issue is done with, it's over."

Talked to Attorney

In addition to speaking with Baker, Ellen said she and the others talked to Newport Beach attorney C. Christopher Cox last week about a possible endorsement. But Cox said Friday that it appeared most of those involved in the interview were already committed to Baker. He also questioned the value of the endorsements because they "are from individuals, not the groups themselves."

Sheldon said Nathan Rosenberg, a Newport Beach businessman, was not included because he "does not fit our profile." He said the group was concerned about Rosenberg's support from groups like the Log Cabin Club, a gay Republican organization, and his pro-choice stance on abortion.

Baker, Cox and Rosenberg are the leading contenders in the 12-candidate Republican primary June 7. Two Democrats and two minor party candidates are also in the race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Robert E. Badham of Newport Beach. Because registered Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2 to 1 in the district, the winner of the GOP primary is almost assured of capturing the seat.

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