Chanting, sign- waving supporters of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn disrupted a news conference and rally for Democratic opponent Barbara Boxer Tuesday, preventing her from speaking and leaving her supporters shaken.
Boxer was forced to move a news conference 10 miles inland, to a union hall in Santa Ana, after the Republican's supporters, brandishing Herschensohn signs with wooden handles, pushed their way into a group of the Democratic congresswoman's supporters outside Newport Beach City Hall.
Among those lending support to the demonstrators at City Hall here was Newport Beach Republican Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, who belittled the Boxer supporters.
The series of events left at least one of Boxer's supporters in tears, and virtually all of them livid. Boxer, Herschensohn's opponent in the Nov. 3 election, had brought together the group of 20 Republicans, many of them women in their 30s or older, to show that she had GOP support in the heart of Republican Orange County.
The Boxer supporters clearly were unprepared for the group of 20 to 25 Herschensohn supporters, most of them college-age men, who pushed up against the women with critical signs and yelled angry slogans.
"It was just awful. They said terrible things," said Susan Magorien, 46, of Corona del Mar, who described herself as "a nice Republican lady from USC." She cried later while recalling the event, saying it reminded her of a bitter fight in the late 1950s when her Congregational church was splintered by ultra right-wing members who called her minister "a communist."
"This brought back a lot of bad memories," she said.
She and another woman, Cheryl Koos, 26, a USC graduate student who lives in Garden Grove, said they were called "femi-Nazis" and "lesbians." They said they were asked, "Where did you bitches leave your brooms?"
It is not unusual for opposing partisans to show up at campaign rallies. In most cases, however, they remain apart and make their point from a distance.
Herschensohn's campaign acknowledged that many of the anti-Boxer demonstrators were working for the Republican candidate and that many had gone directly to the Boxer rally from Herschensohn headquarters. But John Peschong, Herschensohn's spokesman, described the anti-Boxer demonstration as "spontaneous" and said the Republican candidate would "never trample on someone's First Amendment right to speak."
"A number of our supporters are very afraid of what Barbara Boxer will do to the state of California. They are very vocal," he said.
Herschensohn was traveling in Northern California and could not be reached for comment.
One Herschensohn supporter, Mark Denny, 23, a student at Cal State Fullerton, said he and others were there because "we don't want the media to go on television tonight and say Orange County is for Boxer because it's simply not true."
In full view of reporters and others waiting for Boxer, the Herschensohn supporters jostled for position in front of television cameras, side by side with the congresswoman's supporters, often putting their signs in front of those held by the Democrat's volunteers. The Herschensohn side chanted anti-Boxer slogans, drowning out the congresswoman's supporters.
By the time Boxer arrived for the noontime rally and news conference, she was warned off and did not even get out of her car.
Assemblyman Ferguson, standing near the Herschensohn supporters, told reporters waiting for Boxer at City Hall that the congresswoman's supporters were "ding-a-ling women" and "fringe" Republicans.
One of Boxer's supporters, Anita Mangels, a lifelong Republican who said she plans to vote for the congresswoman and other Democrats "with a vengeance," said: "Mr. Ferguson has illustrated the myopic vision which is going to lose Orange County for the Republicans in November."
She said Ferguson's name-calling at "a bunch of ladies who came out to exercise their First Amendment rights" was evidence that Republicans in Orange County are worried about defections.
"We are the Republican women that men like Gil Ferguson have taken for granted for years," Mangels said. "Our political activism started and ended in the voting booth, and that's where they liked it. Then one day we woke up."
Mangels, who also is helping organize the Republicans for Clinton organization in California, later appeared with Boxer at a news conference in a Santa Ana union hall along with Barbara Lichman, an attorney and chairwoman of the Orange County Airport Working Group, and Nancy Skinner, a local environmentalist and abortion-rights activist.
Dr. Jan Van der Sloot, a Newport Beach physician, said the chanting, placard-waving Herschensohn supporters "reminded me of the demonstrations they have in Iraq or Iran."
Boxer, speaking to reporters in Santa Ana about two hours after her news conference was supposed to begin in Newport Beach, claimed that the attempt to embarrass her blew up on the zealous Herschensohn supporters.
"If their intent was to get their candidate elected, they failed miserably," Boxer said. "People are tired of the politics of hate and fear and intimidation . . . and here we have the Herschensohn campaign attacking people of their own political party."
Boxer began the day in San Diego, where she appeared at a news conference with three local Republicans--Dorene Whitney, a GOP activist; Les Braund, chairman of the San Diego Environmental Coalition, and Julie Dillon, a developer.
Outside the Communications Workers of America union hall in Santa Ana--kept at bay by a chain-link fence--were about a dozen Herschensohn supporters, including Anita Ferguson, the assemblyman's wife, who had followed the Boxer contingent inland and claimed to have "chased" her out of Newport Beach.