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4 of 5 County Congressmen Stick With Bush : Politics: The only defector among local conservatives is William E. Dannemeyer, who hints that the President has strayed from the conservative cause.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite persistent unease about President Bush’s compromises on the bedrock conservative issues of taxes and social policy, four of Orange County’s five conservative congressmen are giving the President unequivocal endorsements in his reelection bid.

The lone holdout is Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), one of the most conservative members of Congress, who is giving up his House seat to challenge Sen. John Seymour in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Asked repeatedly whether he has decided to support Bush over right-wing challenger Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative columnist and television personality, Dannemeyer issued an uncharacteristically oblique reply.

“I’m not taking sides between Buchanan and Bush,” Dannemeyer said. “I’m not going to take sides in that struggle. I’m campaigning on the principles that President Bush campaigned on in 1988, and I hope he returns to those principles. . . . And I believe he will.”

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Buchanan, who served in both the Reagan and Nixon White Houses, has touched a nerve among conservative Republicans--including Orange County lawmakers--who were upset that Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge last year when he endorsed a congressional budget accord that called for significant tax increases.

Other conservatives have said they are upset that the President agreed to sign a compromise civil rights bill, which critics on the right have said would encourage the use of racial quotas in job hiring. Backers of the measure, Democrats as well as many Republicans, have said that the legislation is not a quota bill and will simply make it easier for victims of job discrimination to recover damages from guilty employers.

Sounding an “America First” theme, Buchanan also has complained that the President has been so preoccupied with global affairs that he has neglected the domestic needs of the nation.

Buchanan is not the only challenger on the right. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, recently defeated in his bid for the governorship of Louisiana, has said he will go head to head with the President in state Republican primaries beginning in March. All five Orange County congressmen repudiated Duke as a charlatan who is attempting to dupe conservatives into believing that he has shed his racist past.

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“I want nothing to do with that guy,” said Dannemeyer. “He has a racial background that I find abhorrent.”

President Bush’s most enthusiastic supporter in the Orange County congressional delegation remains Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), whom Bush referred to as “my No. 1 surrogate” campaigner during the 1988 election.

“There is no percentage . . . in elected officeholders beating up on a decent president who had the highest ratings of any president since they started taking polls until a few months ago,” Dornan said.

“I’m still a big Bush fan, although I’ve got my problems with how (Bush plans) to get the economy moving again. But Bush has the military record. Bush has the family, and 12 grandchildren. And Bush has the White House.”

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Even though Reps. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) and Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) said they will support the President, they voiced sympathy for Republican dissidents who are looking to Buchanan to carry the cause of the right in the 1992 party primaries. Rohrabacher represents northwestern Orange County, while Packard represents the southern section of the county.

“The President’s success in the fall of 1992 is entirely dependent on events, many of which he controls,” said Cox. “If the President supplies aggressive leadership on the economy, he can and will win a sound victory.

“If he continues to take the advice of people like Dick Darman (Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, who helped broker the controversial 1990 budget accord) and pursues a muddle-through course, then (the election) will be at least as tight as Dewey against Truman.”

A recent “meet-and-greet” breakfast, hosted by two prominent Orange County Republicans for Democratic presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, is further evidence of conservative unrest with the Bush economic program, Cox said.

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Despite his criticism of the 1990 budget deal, and what he referred to as Bush’s “faltering” leadership on the economy, Cox said he will work hard for the President’s reelection. If conservatives abandon Bush, Cox said, they will give up the opportunity to influence the Administration’s policies. And, he said, “Lord knows a policy direction is needed.”

Rohrabacher acknowledged that he has been a frequent and sometimes strident critic of the President. However, the congressman said, “I’m not about to jump ship and support Buchanan. I’m sticking with the President. I think we can have a much greater impact on the direction of the ship of state when we’re inside rowing rather than being on the outside throwing rocks.”

Rohrabacher said it is understandable that conservatives are frustrated because Bush “has been making too many compromises with the liberal Democrats. Clearly, Republican policies would have served the country a lot better.”

In addition to expressing anger over Bush’s retreat from the no-new-taxes pledge, and the compromise on the civil rights bill, Rohrabacher said the President should have taken much stronger action to prop up the breakaway government of Croatia in its fight against the communist remnants of the central Yugoslav government.

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Nevertheless, Rohrabacher said, conservatives need to support the President “because the last thing you do . . . is take political positions that will make it more likely for the Democrats to get elected and implement their entire policy.”

Packard lauded Bush for his achievements in foreign policy, particularly his determination to eject the Iraqi army from occupied Kuwait earlier this year. “But there’s more to the conservative agenda than a strong military,” Packard said.

Packard acknowledged that Bush has disappointed many conservatives, but said the issues have not always been clear-cut. For example, Packard said he “swallowed hard” when he supported the compromise civil rights bill, but said he thought “it was the best we could get” and that it was “better than abandoning any effort at trying to pass something.”

Regardless of conservative doubts, Packard said, “Bush will surprise a lot of people, including conservative Republicans. He really hasn’t started his campaign yet. I think there are few people who are better campaigners than George Bush.”

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