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Assembly Candidate Leaves Stump for Army : Politics: Tom Umberg, one of the Democrats’ top hopes for winning a Republican seat, is also an Army Reserve major and paratrooper. He is called for 2 weeks of duty.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Assembly candidate Tom Umberg, an Army Reserve officer and one of the Democrats’ top hopes for winning a Republican seat in November, has been dispatched to a military base in the California desert in the Middle East crisis mobilization.

Umberg, a paratrooper who was an Army captain in Korea and Italy before joining the Reserves as a major in 1988, reported Thursday night to Fort Irwin, about 40 miles northeast of Barstow. He is scheduled to serve there for two weeks then return later this month to continue his challenge for the 72nd District seat of Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove).

Shortly after U.S. troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, Umberg told his Army Reserve superiors that he is available if needed, campaign manager George Urch said. This week he received the notice to report for active duty.

Urch said he is uncertain how the candidate’s absence will affect the campaign.

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The campaign does not intend to make a political issue of Umberg’s deployment, he said, noting that there was no statement from the candidate or a press release announcing the service.

Urch said the campaign could gain some short-term boost from Umberg’s deployment, especially in such a politically conservative district. But he is concerned that the gains could be offset by the candidate’s inability to attend fund-raisers and speeches and make door-to-door appeals.

Pringle, 31, and Umberg, 34, had been scheduled to debate Sunday. Umberg’s campaign also has at least two fund-raisers scheduled in the next two weeks.

“We’ll just have to see,” Urch said. “Obviously, this is going to have an impact on our fund raising and our best precinct walker. But Tom feels strongly about helping his country when he’s called.”

Urch said Umberg could not take press calls or work for the campaign while he is on active duty. He also said he is uncertain what Umberg’s specific assignment is during his deployment and whether he is being prepared for combat.

The Pringle-Umberg race is expected to be close, with both receiving significant attention from their state party leaders. Democrats have been thirsting for the seat because Pringle represents the only Assembly district in Orange County in which a majority of voters are registered Democrats.

The district includes Stanton and parts of Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster and Anaheim.

Pringle said he does not believe that Umberg’s duty is advantageous to either candidate.

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“It’s a wash,” he said. “I don’t think either side can or should use it for political advantage.”

Umberg was an Army paratrooper from 1981 to 1985. He graduated from law school at UCLA in 1980 and reported the next year to the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. In 1982 he was trained as a paratrooper and joined NATO troops in Italy.

Umberg became a prosecutor in 1987 with the U.S. attorney’s office in Santa Ana, where he worked until he started his campaign in January.

Umberg’s wife, Robin, is also a major in the Army Reserve and recently returned from San Francisco, where she was temporarily called to active duty.

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Robin Umberg is a nurse and worked in an Army hospital, replacing personnel sent to Saudi Arabia.

She and the candidate met while they were serving in Korea. They have three children.

Urch said Robin Umberg will make several campaign appearances during her husband’s absence, including door-to-door walks, speeches and fund raising.


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