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U.S. SENATE : On Huffington’s Turf, Republicans Hold Fund-Raiser for Feinstein

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a night when politics took a lesson from an old proverb: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

And so the disparate critics of GOP Senate candidate Mike Huffington gathered Friday night at the ocean bluff estate of prominent Republican Barney Klinger for one of the biggest fund-raisers that Reagan country has ever thrown for a Democrat like Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

By any measure, it was an odd political event. One guest quipped that the audience of more than 400 was one part American Civil Liberties Union, one part John Birch Society. Feinstein praised ex-GOP Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino as one of the best congressmen to serve in Washington. The Republican returned the compliment, saying Feinstein had character, know-how, experience and class.

Nary a nasty word could be heard as local liberals sipped Chardonnay and chatted in the same room where President Ronald Reagan had stood four times and President Richard Nixon had stood three times, marshaling their forces to defeat Democrats such as Feinstein.

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Except about Huffington (R-Santa Barbara).

The Republican nominee for Feinstein’s seat has an embarrassing weak spot in his hometown of Santa Barbara. It is one of the places where he is least popular in California, as demonstrated in last June’s primary, when he lost his home county to GOP rival William E. Dannemeyer.

For that reason, Feinstein made her second trip of the campaign to Santa Barbara on Friday, hoping that all California voters will hear from her opponent’s angry constituents.

“I think what it says is that where you are best known is at home,” the senator said. “And I must say, I would be very distressed if I could not carry San Francisco or the Bay Area, because that’s where people know me the best. I think it’s an indication of a real weakness.”

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A statement issued by Huffington, who is vacationing in Hawaii, criticized the Feinstein Republicans for disloyalty to their party.

“At a time when Republicans are poised for major victories on a statewide and nationwide level, it’s disappointing that certain individuals have chosen to put personal disputes before party loyalty,” the statement said. “It is especially sad to see any Republicans seeming to endorse Dianne Feinstein’s liberal agenda of higher taxes, bigger government and wishy-washiness on the issues of crime, immigration and defense.”

Huffington’s problems in Santa Barbara began shortly after he moved to the area from Texas in 1991. The next year he angered some local Republicans by entering the GOP primary against Lagomarsino, a seven-term congressman who had served the area in local, state and federal office for more than 30 years.

Huffington spent $5.2 million--more than any House candidate in history--from the fortune he made at his family’s Texas petroleum company to win a bitter race that ousted Lagomarsino.

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About eight months later, some of the negative feelings grew stronger when Huffington announced that he would enter the U.S. Senate race.

“I made a promise,” Klinger said Friday night. “I said that if the son of a bitch runs for the U.S. Senate, I’ll hold the biggest fund-raiser that Santa Barbara has ever had for a Democrat. And I did.”

Klinger, an industrialist whose 33-acre Hope Ranch estate has hosted fund-raisers that produced more than $1 million for Republicans, said he respects Feinstein as a senator, but admits that he has little in common with her politically. Their differences are mild, however, he said, compared to his dislike for Huffington.

“After he was only in office a few months, he said he was bored with his job,” Klinger said. “Can you picture this? He just spent $5 million and he’s bored, he wants a new toy. . . . We have to stop someplace. We have to say: ‘Hey, (nobody) can buy a seat in the Senate, no matter how much money his daddy left him.’ ”

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Lagomarsino confessed to the audience that some of his Republican friends think he has gone too far in helping a Democrat. His answer was that not all Republicans are good for the party.

“I urge all voters, but especially talking to Republicans, to sit down and ask yourself which (Senate) candidate would be best for America, would be best for California and, indeed, would be best for their own party,” he said. “Money can buy a lot of things--it can buy advertising, it can buy a lot of name I.D. But it can’t buy character, or experience, or know-how or class. And it sure as hell shouldn’t be able to buy a U.S. Senate seat.”


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