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Capizzi Feeling Chill Inside the Republican Convention

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, an all-but-certain candidate for state attorney general, might have hoped for favorite-son treatment from the California Republican Party convention that began here Friday.

But that isn’t the plan of top party officials.

Instead, they are treating him like a pariah. While half a dozen other Orange County politicians are being showcased at the semi-annual GOP conclave, Capizzi will have no podium time at the three-day event.

Party officials even rejected Capizzi’s request for a campaign table in the hotel lobby.

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His opponent in the Republican primary for attorney general, however, got a literature table and also a major moment in the spotlight. At the main banquet tonight, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. David Stirling will present the party’s new public safety award for citizens to Mike Reynolds, the father of the three-strikes law.

Capizzi, who attended the convention Friday and plans to return today, insists he isn’t fazed by being frozen out of the official schedule.

He attributed the cold shoulder to “a small group of people who are vocal and not representative of true Republicans who stand for law and order.”

Kenneth L. Khachigian, a party activist and political consultant, said Capizzi is being ostracized by party leaders in Orange County, and will not enjoy the home field advantages that would normally accrue to a Republican district attorney in the state’s most Republican county.

“I think there will be efforts [by party leaders] to talk to Republicans in Orange County and say, ‘This is not your guy,’ ” Khachigian said. “I think every Republican official who has a heartbeat, who means anything--except a few city council guys--will probably line up to oppose Mike.”

The snubbing of Capizzi is no accident, say top Republican officials. Rather, it sends a message to party activists that Stirling is the leadership’s preferred candidate.

The rift stems in large part from party leaders’ anger at Capizzi’s prosecution of Republican campaign workers and Assemblyman Scott R. Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) for allegedly breaking campaign laws in a 1995 special election in Orange County that was crucial to the party leadership’s hopes of installing Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) as speaker of the Assembly.

State GOP Chairman Michael R. Schroeder of Irvine, who in the past two years has not missed a chance to criticize Capizzi, orchestrated the convention response for the hometown district attorney.

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In deciding who should share the convention spotlight, Schroeder said, “You have to figure out a way to make the cut somehow, and we thought it ought to start with someone who has been condemned by the party for misconduct and told to resign.”

Schroeder was referring to a resolution passed in the waning hours of last winter’s GOP convention. The resolution was presented by allies of the Republican activists Capizzi was still targeting for election misdeeds, and others he had already convicted in the case.

Capizzi called that resolution “an embarrassment” to the state party and all Republicans.

“The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln--Honest Abe,” he said. “It is the party of law and order and it is contrary to those principles . . . to be critical of a district attorney who is merely doing his job and pursuing cases against Republicans who allegedly violated the law.”

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Capizzi also said Friday that the reaction he received at the convention was quite warm.

“I went to the convention because I have a lot of friends there,” he said. “I’ve been around the state and I have found party activists who are for me. I met them tonight. They are reacting favorably to who I am, what I say and what I stand for.”

With the race in its formative stages, Capizzi and Stirling have been traveling the state, chasing endorsements and cash. Capizzi was significantly ahead at the June 30 close of the last reporting period, having amassed $144,000 to Stirling’s $28,000.

With the race for attorney general already playing second fiddle to the higher-profile jockeying for the governorship and one of California’s U.S. Senate seats, things such as early endorsements and ballot designations will loom large come the spring.

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Stirling would like to have the advantage of calling himself chief deputy attorney general on the ballot, but Capizzi said he will oppose that label. A major advantage for Capizzi ought to be his connection to Orange County, with its 656,000 registered Republicans. That’s about 12% of the 5.6 million GOP voters in the state.

The question is: Can he exploit it and expand that base to include the rest of Southern California? Capizzi believes that will happen.

But most state legislators, including a majority in Orange County, are backing Stirling, and in a party where much of the organizing takes place around Senate and Assembly districts, their endorsements and ability to offer Stirling their fund-raising base could be a key factor.

Stirling, a three-term assemblyman and Superior Court judge, is heavily promoting his backing by George Deukmejian. The popular former governor and Republican attorney general is the campaign’s statewide chairman.

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“With all due respect to Mike Capizzi, he is primarily only a Republican by affiliation in the most Republican county in the state,” said Stirling. “It is not just that Capizzi is prosecuting Republicans, it is also a recognition that I have been an active Republican working in the trenches since 1966.”

Capizzi, past president of the California District Attorneys Assn., counters that with endorsements from 47 of the state’s 58 elected district attorneys, as well as backing from a shorter but not insignificant list of elected sheriffs and appointed police chiefs.

Capizzi touts these law enforcement endorsements and says the people don’t really want a politician, or to listen to politicians, when it comes to this office. “Stirling is not really a prosecutor, is he?” he said. “In the eyes of the prosecutors of the state, there is only one prosecutor in the race, and that is me.”

Dan Schnur, an advisor to the state GOP, said the kind of political support Stirling has “helps him, but it doesn’t guarantee a win.”

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“The attorney general is the top cop in California . . . and people look at this office as something that has less to do with politics and more to do with law enforcement,” he said.

“In a down-ticket race, the most important thing to watch is the money, and the extent that either one can advertise in the primary, and mail to targeted voters. That will be the most important determinant,” Schnur said.


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