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Notebook /Politics : Political Backers Were Hungry, but Few Were Bushed

Times Staff Writer

There was Jeb Bush, the son of the vice president, struggling mightily to sound upbeat before a hotel ballroom full of Republicans in Irvine recently. But try as he might, George Bush’s son could not compete with the mounds of fresh pasta and the rounds of roast beef that proved far more enticing.

At one point, Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes took the podium and asked the overflow crowd of 750 to quiet down so Bush could be heard. But the vice president’s son never had a chance--not when people had spent $250 apiece to munch, drink and be seen.

It was a fund-raiser for Project ’90, the statewide GOP plan to take over the Assembly before redistricting in 1990. But it appeared that the mission of most who attended was to beef up for the final weeks of the campaign.

“Listen, no offense to Bush’s son, but I missed lunch, and this is too good to pass up,” said John Brooks, a Laguna Hills resident and lifelong Republican who busily filled a tortilla with chicken, cheese and sour cream as the GOP presidential nominee’s son spoke.

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“Besides, I’m going to vote for the vice president,” Brooks added. “I don’t need a pep talk. I need some food.”

Speaking of Project ’90, Orange County Republicans have contributed handsomely to the party’s statewide cause, raising more than $700,000 this year alone--money that will be used to help GOP Assembly candidates up and down California. Last Friday’s event at the Irvine Hilton, where Jeb Bush and Gov. George Deukmejian appeared, generated more than $200,000, party officials said. Boosting the county total were separate $100,000 contributions from Howard Ahmanson Jr. of Corona del Mar and the Lincoln Club, a private group of Republican business people.

Underscoring the importance both major political parties have placed on Orange County, the Democrats are following the Republicans’ lead and opening a special voter registration and outreach office in the heart of the county’s Vietnamese community. The area in Westminster and Garden Grove is crowded with Asian businesses, many of them owned by Vietnamese.

Once viewed as politically removed from the mainstream of local politics, those who live and work in Little Saigon have become targets of stepped-up efforts by both Republicans and Democrats scrambling to register voters by the Oct. 11 filing deadline. The drive to registered Asians in the two cities has taken on added significance because much of the area falls within the 72nd Assembly District in central Orange County, which political observers say is one of the key legislative races statewide.

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The Republicans opened an office at 9191 Bolsa Ave. in Westminster several weeks ago. On Monday, the Democrats are scheduled to follow suit, opening a similar office at 14168 Brookhurst St. in Garden Grove.

As a political force, “the Asians are emerging in Orange County,” said Paul Garza, executive director of the county Democratic Party. “Any time people are coming from a refugee situation, they are reluctant to get involved politically. In their homeland, politics has usually been a deadly game. But they have been here long enough to recognize that this a functioning democracy and they want to be heard more and more.”

To draw attention to the Asian voter registration push, both parties have lured name players to their Little Saigon offices. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) appeared recently at the Republican office in Westminster and Kitty Dukakis, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, is scheduled to stop and shake hands and pose for pictures on Tuesday at the party’s new Garden Grove headquarters.

If Don Knabe, the GOP candidate in the 33rd State Senate District, ever forgets who his Democratic opponent is, all he has to do is stop by his campaign headquarters. It seems the Knabe camp needed more room for its campaign to win the Senate seat, which includes southeast Los Angeles County and half a dozen cities in northwest Orange County.

Campaign aides found a bigger office two doors down from Knabe’s first headquarters in an Artesia shopping center just inside Los Angeles County. There was just one hitch: the color of the carpet. It is green, as in Cecil N. Green, the former Norwalk city councilman who won the Senate seat in a special election in May, 1987, and is running against Knabe this time around.

But rather than replace the carpet at a considerable cost, Knabe instructed aides to leave it. Known for his quick wit as a Cerritos city councilman, Knabe found motivation in the situation. Looking at the carpet, he coined his campaign’s new slogan: “Walk on Green.”

On the California ballot Nov. 8 there are nearly three dozen propositions, not to mention a host of state and legislative races, making the task of getting one’s message heard in the crush of all those promises to be a difficult one, at best.

Mailboxes already are filling with campaign literature. And television remains an expensive, often ineffective medium for selling a local legislative candidate. But at least two local Republicans believe radio may be the ticket.

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Knabe and fellow Republican Curt Pringle, the GOP candidate in the 72nd Assembly District, have been running spots on several stations in recent weeks. Knabe has spent $8,000 and Pringle about $10,000 to reach radio listeners. And they have timed their spots to air at prime commute times.

“Southern Californians spend more time in their car than anywhere else,” Knabe said. “At rush hour, they are a captive audience.”

And there are few things a politician likes better than a captive audience.


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