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78th Assemblyt seat : Contest Between Killea, wear runs Toward $1-Million Mark

Times Staff Writer

Moving rapidly toward San Diego’s first million-dollar state Assembly campaign, Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) and her Republican opponent, Byron Wear, have raised nearly $675,000 between them as their 78th District race enters the final month, campaign finance reports show.

The combined contribution total--more than double that raised in any other local legislative campaign--is a reflection of the highly competitive nature of the 78th District contest, perhaps the most closely watched of the seven Assembly and two Senate races on the ballot in San Diego next month.

As of Sept. 30, Killea, who is running for a fourth two-year term, had raised $398,461.90, and Wear had received contributions totaling $276,337.12, with substantial parts of both candidates’ funds coming from their respective parties.

Million-Dollar Race?

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With both Wear and Killea predicting that they will spend more than $500,000 by the Nov. 8 election, the final price tag in the 78th District race could be nearly 30 times the job’s $37,105 annual salary. (Assembly members also receive $87 a day for expenses while the Legislature is in session.)

Among other candidates whose finance reports had been received by the county registrar of voter’s office as of late Thursday, Carol Bentley, who is seeking to succeed fellow Republican Larry Stirling in the 77th Assembly District, had amassed the most in her campaign war chest, $271,621. State Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) was close behind with $249,050 in contributions.

Stirling, who is running for the state Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Jim Ellis (R-San Diego), also topped $200,000 in expenditures, while three other candidates--Democratic Assemblymen Pete Chacon and Steve Peace, and Peace’s Republican challenger, Steve Baldwin--have raised more than $100,000.

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The Wear-Killea spending frenzy continues a pattern seen in recent elections in the 78th District, the most heavily Republican Assembly district held by a Democrat in the state--a fact that typically results in massive infusions of money from both statewide parties. Two years ago, Killea and her Republican opponent, Earl Cantos Jr., spent about $725,000 in a race won by Killea, with 57% of the vote to 40% for Cantos.

In their efforts to pick up the five additional seats needed to control the Assembly, state Republican leaders have targeted the 78th District, where the Democrats’ 46%-41% edge in voter registration is considerably slimmer than the lopsided margins found in San Diego’s other legislative districts. Conversely, state Democratic officials, realizing that Killea’s victory is critical to retention of their majority in the Assembly, have provided financial backing to help her keep her seat.

Killea received nearly two-thirds of her contributions--$279,212.60--during the July-September period covered in this week’s finance report. Of that amount, $134,222 represented cash donations and $144,990.60 came in so-called “non-monetary contributions” from the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee and was used to pay consulting fees and purchase TV ads, among other campaign expenses.

Killea’s campaign committee, Friends of Lucy Killea, also received sizable contributions from some of Killea’s friends in the Assembly. In addition to receiving a $5,000 donation from a California Democratic Party political action committee, Killea received $62,500 from nine of her Democratic colleagues in the Assembly, including $10,000 each from Jim Costa of Fresno, Jack O’Connell of Santa Barbara, Jackie Speier of South San Francisco and John Vasconcellos of San Jose.

Wear also drew six-figure assistance from the GOP, highlighted by $60,830 in expenses paid for by the California Republican Party and $54,616 for polls, radio ads and other purposes from the Assembly Republican PAC.

A longtime party activist who narrowly lost to fellow Republican Ron Roberts in last fall’s San Diego City Council election, Wear also received a $10,250 contribution from Assemblyman Bob Frazee (R-Carlsbad) and $10,000 from the Golden Eagle Club, a group of major GOP donors. Two other local Assembly Republicans, Sunny Mojonnier of Encinitas and Bill Bradley of Escondido, gave Wear $1,000 each, and Assemblywoman Cathie Wright of Simi Valley donated $2,000.

Both Killea and Wear also received thousands of dollars in contributions from business, labor and professional organizations.

80th District Contest

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Another race that has attracted more than passing attention from both major parties is the Peace-Baldwin contest in the 80th District, with most of the interest attributable to Peace’s much-publicized falling out with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). Although Democrats hold a 49%-38% registration advantage in the 80th District, Republicans view Peace’s feud with Brown as an opportunity to mount a stronger-than-usual challenge.

The spending in that race has been fairly evenly balanced, with Peace raising $136,677 and spending $129,434 as of Sept. 30, compared to $121,785 in contributions and $105,836 in expenditures for Baldwin.

The finance reports show that, in other local legislative races:

*- Incumbent Frazee had spent $74,950.46 in what is expected to be a relatively easy reelection campaign in the 74th Assembly District. His Democratic opponent, James Melville, had raised only $835.

*- In the 75th District, Mojonnier had outraised her long-shot Democratic challenger, Mary Christian, by a nearly 10-to-1 margin--$58,994.07 to $6,150.

* Bradley also easily outpaced Democrat Mike Harman in the 76th District, drawing $62,745.66 in contributions to his opponent’s $11,865 total.

* GOP candidate Bentley has a major fund-raising advantage over Democrat Sam Hornreich in the heavily Republican 77th District. Bentley’s $271,621 contribution total--$114,987 of which was raised after her upset June primary victory over San Diego City Councilwoman Gloria McColl--is more than five times Hornreich’s $51,897.21.

* In the heavily Democratic 79th District, Democratic incumbent Chacon has raised $100,868 in his bid for a 10th term. The report for his Republican opponent, entrepreneur Gary Gahn, had not been received as of late Friday.

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*- In the 37th state Senate District, Republican incumbent Bergeson had spent $222,244 as of Sept. 30. The report for Democrat Pat McCabe was not available.

*- Stirling has raised $195,446.91 in his campaign to move up from the Assembly to the 39th District state Senate seat. His Democratic opponent, Benita Berkson, reported contributions totaling $20,825, about half of which represented personal loans that she made to her campaign.


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