One of California's biggest bankrollers of conservative Republican candidates and causes announced Tuesday that he will run for a central Orange County state Senate seat in a special election expected to be held next spring.
Robert Hurtt Jr., owner of Container Supply Co. in Garden Grove, has never run for elected office. But his candidacy is being taken seriously by political insiders because he could outspend his opponents using his own money and, so far, there is no big-name candidate in the race.
Campaign finance statements indicate that Hurtt, 47, contributed more than $540,000 to candidates and organizations involved in this year's election.
Political observers linked Hurtt with California's religious right movement because many of its candidates benefited from his contributions. He was also included on a list of prospective delegates to the Republican National Convention that was prepared by evangelist Pat Robertson.
But a staff assistant for Hurtt said Tuesday that his political motivation is business-oriented, not religious. Danielle Madison also said Hurtt did not attend the GOP national convention and that he was unaware his name was on Robertson's list.
Madison said Hurtt was in his office Tuesday, but he did not respond to an interview request from The Times. Instead, he announced his candidacy in a faxed statement.
"There is a critical shortage of general business representation and especially manufacturing representation in our Legislature," his statement said. "If we're going to survive and prosper, it's time to change California's attitude toward business."
Gov. Pete Wilson is expected to call a special election in the 32nd Senate District following the election of state Sen. Ed Royce (R-Anaheim) to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Privately, some Orange County conservatives were also concerned about Hurtt's candidacy because many top leaders of the party's right wing have already committed their support to Brian Bennett, a former aide to Garden Grove Rep. Robert K. Dornan and the only other Republican candidate in the race.
Democrat Ken LeBlanc is the only other candidate to officially announce his bid for the seat.