Incumbent Spending Exudes Confidence : Politics: Republicans running haven't been out trying to stuff their campaign coffers, affirming the county's status as a GOP safehouse.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If their campaign bank accounts are any indication, Orange County's GOP incumbents are more than confident of victory as they head toward the June congressional primary. It's not that they are rolling in cash; it's that many of them have hardly bothered to raise much of it at all.

And why should they? In only half of the six races has a fellow Republican dared to challenge them.

"Lots of (Orange County) Republicans have gotten used to not only having much more money than they can spend, but also not paying much attention to raising it," said Mark Petracca, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine. "They know the Democrats who go up against them are suicidal."

With less than a month to go before the June 7 primary election, most of the incumbents were financially comfortable, though hardly flush with cash. Even so, they were substantially richer than any of their Democratic challengers and seemed scarcely worried about the general election looming in November, affirming once again Orange County's enduring status as a Republican safehouse.

Campaign fund-raising statements filed with the Federal Elections Commission for the first quarter of this year showed that Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) had about $47,018 in cash on hand. That makes him a relative pauper compared to congressmen such as David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who had $2.2 million at the end of last year, more than any other House member.

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Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) spent a mere $11,000 campaigning in that three-month period. Packard is one of the three incumbents facing a primary challenge, but his opponent, Mission Viejo realtor Ed Mayerhofer, had not filed FEC spending reports by the deadline.

Even Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach, the incumbent with the largest amount of money in the bank, appeared to have little reason to be so well-prepared. As of the end of March, the Cox camp had $263,766 on hand. Republican Steven J. Frogue of Lake Forest had filed to run against him; Cox's only challenger to file campaign finance papers, Democrat J. Wayne Allen, listed a war chest of $5.37.

Another round of financial statements must be filed May 26, but the picture is not likely to change. In every case, incumbents are raising more than their rivals. And while money is not always a measure of muscle--Democrat Robert J. Banuelos raised and spent only about $5,000 in 1992 but lost to Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) by just 10 points--it generally goes a long way toward winning.

Dornan, long known as one of the most prolific fund-raisers in the House--heads toward November with 10 times the funds amassed by his strongest Democratic challenger. Dornan's cash on hand was listed at $85,415, while his Democratic challengers had far less: Michael Farber had $8,546, John M. Ivler listed $2,559 and Madelene E. Arakelian had $1,622. No other candidate, include Banuelos, who is running again, had filed.

The same imbalance held true in the 39th District, where Royce's Democratic opponent, R.O. (Bob) Davis, listed his remaining cash at $100.02.

In the 45th District, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) reported $80,320 still in his treasury, compared to attorney Brett Williamson, a Democrat, who had $18,450.

Although some observers believe Williamson has as good a shot as any of unseating the three-term congressman, Rohrabacher was confident he would be celebrating election night.

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"My opponent, Brett Williamson, criticized me the other day for taking away benefits from illegal immigrants," chortled Rohrabacher, who has lately made illegal immigration his battle cry. "If that's what he has to criticize me for, I don't think I have much to worry about."

Only Rep. Jay C. Kim of Diamond Bar, whose district takes in a sliver of Orange County, is facing a serious challenge in the primary. Shadowed by allegations that he violated campaign, labor and tax laws relating to his engineering firm and his 1992 campaign, Kim appeared to be working hard to retain his seat.

According to campaign spending reports, he raised $104,377--primarily in small donations from Korean Americans around the country--and spent $81,041 of it.

Although six Republicans are challenging Kim in the primary, only one had filed campaign spending reports. That candidate, businesswoman Valerie Romero, listed cash on hand of $17,415.

The only Democrat challenging Kim who had filed spending papers was Ed Tessier, who had $787 in his campaign fund.

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