A well-planned advertising campaign that portrayed Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich as a staunch Republican and Baxter Ward as an eccentric helped Antonovich win a third-term victory by a wide margin.
That was the opinion of key members of the Antonovich campaign team Wednesday after he routed Ward for the job of representing the 5th Supervisorial District, which extends from the Santa Monica Mountains through the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys into the San Gabriel Valley.
The victory left intact the three-man conservative majority on the five-member county governing board. Along with Antonovich on the conservative side are Deane Dana and Pete Schabarum. The liberals are Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn.
That means the board will probably continue its present policies, placing a higher priority on law enforcement and public works than on the vast social and health programs that the county must maintain for the poor.
The victory was a strong comeback from a disappointing primary when Antonovich failed to gain a majority against Ward and eight other challengers. That put Antonovich into the November runoff against Ward, a former supervisor whom Antonovich had defeated in 1980.
A Times study of key areas in the huge district showed that Antonovich won by capturing the support of huge numbers of voters who had not turned out in the primary.
The increase in voters even helped Antonovich in areas where he was not popular.
In Canyon Country, in northern Los Angeles County, for example, a growth-control homeowners movement had been attacking Antonovich, who is pro-development, for months. In the primary, Ward and the others got 4,851 votes in census tracts studied by The Times to 1,617 for Antonovich.
Antonovich still lost those census tracts Tuesday, but he did it 7,800 to 5,909. In other words, Antonovich picked up 4,292 votes from hostile Canyon Country, while Ward gained only 2,949.
In Northridge, where Antonovich was a 1,348-794 primary loser in census tracts studied by The Times, he was a 5,710-3,130 winner Tuesday.
The surge to Antonovich was dramatic in his hometown of Glendale. In census tracts around Antonovich’s home, his 3-2 primary margin of victory grew to a 7-2 edge Tuesday.
All these were strong Republican areas, and the flow of votes to Antonovich in them was the result of one part of the supervisor’s fall game plan--get out a strong GOP vote, capitalizing on the intense Republican interest in the presidential race.
The George Bush victory also was said to have helped the incumbent.
“We had a competitive presidential race, which helped,” said Antonovich pollster Arnold Steinberg, who blamed the supervisor’s weak primary showing to a low Republican turnout. “In the June primary, we had no competitive Republican race.”
Republican consultant Alan Hoffenblum, brought in after the primary to run a revised mail advertising campaign, said a series of mailers were sent to Republican and conservative Democratic voters emphasizing Antonovich’s GOP affiliation.
An important mailer, sent out late in the campaign, had pictures of Bush, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, (R-Calif) and Republican Gov. George Deukmejian with pro-Antonovich statements from them all. Inside was the message: “Vote for Mike Antonovich, the Republican choice.”
In addition, mailed advertisements went to two ethnic groups that traditionally vote Democratic: Jews and Latinos. The Jewish mailer emphasized Antonovich’s support of Israel and his moves on the board to better human relations, including urging action against those vandalizing synagogues. The Latino mailer was signed by Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, a Democrat.
As an example of the effectiveness of the ethnic mailers, Antonovich carried the predominantly Latino city of San Fernando 2,073 to 1,290.
The second phase of the advertising campaign aimed at Ward’s two terms as supervisor, eight years marked by his staff investigating other county officials after receiving accusations from a network of inside-government whistle-blowers encouraged by Ward.
“In the primary, the voters chose from a smorgasbord,” said Hoffenblum. “In this one (the runoff) we had a choice of one entree or the other.”
Advertising in the mail was coordinated with television commercials by another consultant, Don Dornan, to paint what turned out to be a distinctly unfavorable picture of Ward.
Ward had always been known for unconventional behavior. Until politics forced him to modify his prejudices, he declined to shake hands to avoid germs. He refused big campaign contributions, limiting acceptable donations to $250. He hated dedications, speeches and all the other small rituals of local politics. He treated with contempt some of the most powerful figures in local politics and accused some of them of corruption.
With Antonovich’s career on the line, he and his team decided to turn this unconventional behavior against Ward. Mailings were combined with a television commercial featuring a filing cabinet, from which Antonovich charged Ward had spirited away confidential files obtained in Ward’s investigations. Antonovich, in speeches, charged the investigations were bizarre violations of civil liberties, a theme hammered home by the advertising campaign.
“Because he refused to participate in a traditional campaign, all the voters knew about Baxter Ward was what we told them,” said Hoffenblum.
He referred to Ward’s refusal to take large campaign contributions to finance conventional advertising.
Antonovich also took his mailed advertising campaign into the heart of hostile country, the Santa Clarita Valley, sending out an advertising campaign explaining his stand on traffic and development. He lost the city of Santa Clarita to Ward, but just barely.
That mailer pointed out what Antonovich had done to ease traffic in the area and was based on the theory of his campaign consultants that residents who espoused the slow-growth movement were really angry about traffic jams.
“I truly believe if they had no trouble getting to work, they would not care how many people lived there,” Hoffenblum said.
Ward, in a press conference at his Encino campaign headquarters, said he did not believe his defeat meant the slow-growth movement was dead.
“This doesn’t show people aren’t concerned about growth,” he said.
“I think they (voters) were so occupied getting me out that they lost sight of the development issue. I take total responsibility for the way it turned out. In 1980, they told me to get out, and last night, they said stay out.”
Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen contributed to this story.