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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS 35TH SENATE DISTRICT : Lewis Is Expected to Coast in GOP Turf

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TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

It’s no wonder that eight Republicans jumped at the chance last March to replace former Anaheim state Sen. John Seymour: The 35th Senate District, which Seymour recently vacated, is the most solidly Republican Senate district in all of California.

There are more than twice as many Republicans in this one Senate district as there are in all of San Francisco County, according to the latest registration report from Secretary of State March Fong Eu.

So, since Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) won the hotly competitive Republican primary in March, experts believe that Tuesday’s special election will be little more than an anticlimactic finale in the campaign to elect California’s newest state senator.

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“Unless John Lewis burns down an orphanage, he’s going to be the next senator there,” Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) wrote in a recent letter to his Sacramento colleagues.

Democrat Francis X. Hoffman, a trustee on the County Board of Education, and Libertarian Eric Sprik, owner of a dry-cleaning business, will also appear on Tuesday’s ballot.

Reflecting the district’s conservative politics, all three hopefuls have similar positions on several key issues. They all support the death penalty, oppose Measure J--the jail-construction tax on Tuesday’s ballot--and they oppose any tax increase to resolve the state’s massive budget deficit.

They do split on one major issue--abortion. Hoffman and Sprik support abortion rights while Lewis opposes legal abortions.

The 35th Senate District seat was vacated last January when newly elected Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Seymour to fill his U.S. Senate seat. Seymour, a former mayor of Anaheim, will run for election to the U.S. Senate next year.

The state Senate district that he left includes almost all of Anaheim, Orange, Costa Mesa and Fountain Valley, as well as parts of Irvine, Westminster, Tustin and Huntington Beach. Almost 57% of its 313,000 voters are registered Republicans, compared to 32% for Democrats.

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But in a special election that has drawn little attention, political observers expect the vast majority of those voters to stay home. Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald Tanney predicted a turnout on Tuesday as low as 18%, but campaign strategists involved in the race say it could be even lower.

Another factor in the election is the huge number of ballots that have already been cast by mail--an all-time record for an Orange County special election. All county voters will be asked on Tuesday to decide Measure J, and the registrar’s office said it has received more than 44,000 absentee ballots countywide. Campaign strategists in the Senate race say a significant portion of those are from voters within the Senate district.

But whether turnout is high or low, Republican leaders are so confident that Lewis is going to win on Tuesday that a furious battle has already begun over the choosing a successor for Lewis in the state Assembly.

Two Republican candidates have already announced that they expect to run--conservative party activist Mickey Conroy and Orange Councilman William G. Steiner, a moderate. Former Assemblyman Curt Pringle, who lost his seat last November to Democrat Tom Umberg, was considering a campaign, but he announced Wednesday that he will not run.

Pringle said, however, that it sounds like competition will be tough in the race for Lewis’ 67th Assembly District seat, which is even more strongly Republican than the Senate district.

“I’d be really surprised if there were not 10 (Republican) people in that race,” Pringle said.

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35th Senatorial District

Francis X. Hoffman

Party: Democrat

Age: 42

Occupation: Attorney

Background: Trustee, Orange County Board of Education since 1984; candidate for Congress in 1990; candidate for state Senate in 1986.

Issues: Supports abortion rights; supports a ban on assault weapons and a waiting period before purchase of certain weapons; opposes a tax increase to balance the state budget; favors term limits for legislators; supports capital punishment; opposes Measure J, the county’s proposed jail construction tax.

John R. Lewis

Party: Republican

Age: 36

Occupation: Assemblyman

Background: Elected to state Assembly in 1980. Worked with family’s real estate business.

Issues: Opposes abortion rights; opposes ban on assault weapons and waiting period to purchase guns; opposes a tax increase to balance the state budget; favors term limits for legislators; supports capital punishment; opposes Measure J.

Eric Sprik

Party: Libertarian (Photograph not available)

Age: 38

Occupation: Dry cleaner

Background: Owns family dry cleaning business; trained in electronics.

Issues: Supports abortion rights; opposes ban on assaults weapons and waiting period to purchase guns; opposes a tax increase to balance the state budget; favors term limits for legislators; supports capital punishment; opposes Measure J.

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