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Seymour Foe Hopes to Be Life of Party : Politics: Rep. Dannemeyer offers himself as a conservative alternative to the U.S. senator and finds support at semiannual gathering.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Wearing a red vest covered with campaign pins and a funny hat stuck with an American flag, one delegate at this weekend’s state Republican convention stepped up to Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, and heartily offered: “You look very senatorial, congressman.”

“Well, you’ve got to look the part,” Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) responded.

Minutes later, a man in a gorilla costume appeared, proclaiming: “I’ve gone ape over Dannemeyer.”

Political conventions are certainly colorful and often wacky, but they are also a big part of the machinery that produces state and national leaders. At this one, Dannemeyer met with California’s GOP ranks for the first time since he announced last week that he will challenge fellow Republican Sen. John Seymour in 1992.

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The task for Dannemeyer at this convention was simply to be sure that party activists are aware they have a conservative alternative to the moderate Seymour, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate last month by Gov. Pete Wilson.

This is, after all, the convention where about 1,200 Republican faithful start getting serious about their plans for next year’s election.

Dannemeyer’s firebrand style of politicking is particularly effective at getting attention during conventions. For years, he has been a controversial and some say outrageous element at the party’s semiannual gatherings, usually because of his anti-gay activism.

In 1989, he offered a resolution to the delegates that contained descriptions of gay sex acts that were so graphic they were finally censored by party leaders who called them “obscene.”

This weekend, Dannemeyer once again worked hard to maintain a high profile. He submitted a proposal that would amend the party’s statement of purpose to say it supports family values and the “heterosexual ethic.” And Sunday, he proposed a resolution that would condemn tax increases, a direct attack on Gov. Pete Wilson and his plan to resolve the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.

Dannemeyer lost the battle over the “heterosexual ethic” language in the party’s Rules Committee on Saturday. But Sunday, his anti-tax measure passed in a dramatic show of conservative power that overcame the opposition of party leaders.

“There are distinctions between my opponent and I that people should recognize,” Dannemeyer said when asked to explain his actions. “I think we should define these differences and stake out the issues that we believe in.”

Seymour and the party leaders, who are unhappy with the prospects of an expensive primary battle, worked at the convention to isolate Dannemeyer as an extremist who has little support in the party.

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Seymour, a former state senator whose district in Anaheim overlapped Dannemeyer’s congressional territory, charged that the congressman “has been fixated on gay-bashing” for all of his 12 years in Washington.

“He really represents a very narrow and small part of our Republican Party,” Seymour said at a press conference Saturday. “He and I clearly differ in our views.”

Frank Visco, who retired as chairman of the Republican Party on Sunday, said Dannemeyer’s challenge will force Seymour to add at least $6 million to his campaign budget.

Visco said Dannemeyer is part of a “fringe group” in the party. He added: “I think he is misguided in his challenge.”

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Dannemeyer’s support base is in anti-abortion Republicans and the so-called Religious Right.

One delegate from Mariposa County, near Fresno, said he became a Dannemeyer supporter after hearing him speak recently on a religious talk show.

“My personal commitment is that I will never vote for anyone who agrees to murder the innocent” through abortion, said J.C. Burris.

Deborah R. Clark, a convention delegate by proxy who met with the congressmen at his hospitality suite, said she is new to politics but inspired by the issues Dannemeyer represents.

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“When morals are in decline, I think we need somebody like congressman Dannemeyer to make the changes,” she said. “I trust him.”

Some say the conservative wing of the party can be more influential at conventions than it is in the electorate.

“What goes on at political conventions seldom reflects the mainstream voters,” said Bob Nelson, a campaign strategist for Seymour. “These people tend to be very issue oriented.”

As a result, Dannemeyer said he didn’t know what kind of response he would get at the convention. But Sunday he said he was encouraged.

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“Things went very well,” he said. “There were a lot of signs of encouragement and support. I’m in this all the way.”


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