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Suspicions of ‘Stealth’ Campaign Surface in 76th District : Election: Dick Daleke seeks to distance himself from the extreme right while painting his foe, Mike Gotch, as an ultra-liberal.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two years after Christian activists’ “stealth” campaigns produced victories in races for dozens of minor San Diego County offices, suspicions over their secretive tactics have surfaced in the 76th Assembly District race, viewed as a crucial test of their bid to elect candidates to political offices above the grass-roots level.

Indeed, the mutual distrust between Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gotch and challenger Dick Daleke is such that it has posed a somewhat amusing question: Is Daleke’s effort to distance himself from, in his words, “extremism of any kind,” proof that he eschews the religious right’s trademark low-profile tactics, or evidence that, as Gotch suggests, he is “running the ultimate stealth campaign by claiming not to.”

“He’s an enigma, so that makes it a little easier to say one thing and perhaps do another,” Gotch said.

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The controversy over tactics has taken on added significance because Daleke is one of 12 Republican Assembly candidates in key races statewide who are being backed financially and otherwise by the religious right, and accusations of “stealth” campaigns are being raised in those races as well.

Daleke, 60, a retired naval officer in his first race for public office, dismisses Gotch’s speculation as “political paranoia,” describing the accusation as “just a rehash” of charges that he overcame in June’s three-candidate GOP primary.

“People didn’t believe it in the primary, and they won’t buy it now, either,” said Daleke, now a management consultant. “You don’t put together a 31-year Navy career by being a Bible-thumper. Mike Gotch may try to paint me as a far-right fundamentalist religious bigot, but he won’t succeed.”

But Gotch, 45, a former San Diego city councilman seeking reelection to a second two-year Assembly term, is quick to note that about three-quarters of Daleke’s primary contributions came from Christian right groups closely linked to the anti-abortion movement.

Moreover, Daleke, who opposes abortion and describes himself as “pro-gun right down the line,” clearly was the most conservative of the three Republicans in the primary, a factor that prompted Gov. Pete Wilson to back one of his more moderate rivals.

Daleke’s name also appears on several religious and pro-life groups’ slates, and he has run campaign ads in a Christian newspaper.

“Despite his best efforts to disassociate himself from these groups and appear mainstream, the fact is that most of his contributions and support have come from groups that preach that kind of far-right gospel,” Gotch said.

Echoing common themes heard from other hard-line Republicans, Daleke, who drew Wilson’s endorsement after his primary victory, opposes tax increases, favors budget cuts and supports regulatory reductions.

However, he provides few specifics to back up his positions, focusing instead on the broader philosophical differences between himself and Gotch, whom he frequently describes as “a liberal Democratic supporter of (Assembly Speaker) Willie Brown.”

Meanwhile, Gotch, who concedes that he began his reelection bid “with one foot in the ditch” because of the district’s slight Republican edge in voter registration, constantly contrasts his legislative experience with Daleke’s political newcomer status--a potentially risky tack, given the public’s growing anti-incumbency mood.

“This is no time to gamble with the county’s finances,” Gotch says. “There is an institutional hierarchy in Sacramento that new members have to battle through. We can’t afford that time. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to turn out someone who’s been (in office) only 20 months.”

Campaign finance reports filed this month shed new light on the extent of Daleke’s ties to the Christian right, showing that roughly half of his $189,000 in contributions has come from two ultra-conservative business groups.

Conclusive evidence, however, may not arrive until the race’s closing days. In 1990, conservative activists blanketed hundreds of church parking lots with pamphlets on the Sunday before the election, a tactic that contributed to the victories by two-thirds of the 88 far-right candidates seeking office that year.

“That’s when we’ll know for sure what they’re up to,” Gotch said. “Unfortunately, then, it’s too late to do much about it. And they know that.”

With eight years on the San Diego City Council and two more in the Assembly, Gotch has won the support of women’s organizations, police and firefighters unions, teachers and state employees. He supports abortion rights and gun control. He wants library, housing and school bond measures as a way to create jobs. He supports the rebuilding of public schools.

He has raised $165,054 so far, including $10,000 from the state Council of Service Employees, $21,000 from the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California and $6,500 from the California Teachers Assn.

In trying to bring up Daleke’s ties to the Christian right, Gotch is trying to divert attention from his own record, Daleke says, which espouses “big government and socialism.”

Like a number of Republicans who use the state Chamber of Commerce “report card” to show how legislators vote on business issues, Daleke says Gotch voted against business 15 of 17 times in 1991.

“I see Mike Gotch as being a team player for Willie Brown and in playing Willie Brown’s games, Mike is not always doing the best he can for his district,” Daleke says.

Libertarian Pat Wright and Peace & Freedom candidate Forest H. Worten are also running in the 76th District.

Wright, a 33-year-old publishing assistant, got into the race because Gotch ignored Wright’s request for him to carry a bill legalizing ferrets in California. Wright, a ferret owner, believed he could pull enough votes away from Gotch to make him lose the election.

But when Daleke beat former Del Mar Mayor Ronnie Delaney and Charles Ledbetter--more moderate Republicans--Wright said it caused a dilemma.

“Gotch is the extreme left and Daleke is the extreme right,” Wright said. “Both are unacceptable.”

Worten, a 45-year-old businessman-consultant, could not be reached for comment but is in favor of gun control and supports a drastic overhaul of state government.


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