Valley Races Turning Hot in Homestretch
From stinging ads on President Clinton’s sex scandal to a jackpot of gambling contributions, a flurry of last-minute political attacks and maneuvering has pumped a shot of adrenaline into the once lackluster political races in the San Fernando Valley.
Battles over the Valley’s 24th and 27th congressional districts will top the local ticket on Tuesday’s ballot, with both races featuring freshmen incumbents in campaigns stewing with charges and countercharges of lies and dirty tricks.
The Democrats in the two congressional campaigns, banking on a voter backlash over the Clinton scandal, have gone on the offensive and attacked their Republican opponents for supporting an open-ended impeachment inquiry by the GOP-led Congress.
Most of the attacks have been delivered via political mailers, the campaign tactic of choice by the vast majority of Valley candidates running for state and federal office.
Meanwhile, the candidates’ supporters have been hard at work to ensure that voters turn out on election day--delivering the word to get out and vote through phone banks and a door-to-door push.
“Everybody is talking turnout, turnout, turnout this year,” said Mike Madrid, political director of the California Republican Party. “The reality is that a lot of the votes have already been cast.”
According to Madrid, his party sent 2 million absentee ballot request forms to its members throughout the state. He said 20% responded.
“They were hitting voters two days after the president’s televised speech” acknowledging his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Madrid said. “They basically had the remote control in one hand and the absentee ballot request in the other.”
But campaign consultant Allan Hoffenblum of Los Angeles said polls have shown GOP hype of the Clinton scandal may hurt, not help, state and local Republican candidates Tuesday.
“Here in California, this whole Clinton thing has been disastrous for the Republicans,” said Hoffenblum, a GOP campaign advisor who also publishes the elections handicapper “California Target Book.”
Fight for Congress
Democrat Barry Gordon, who is challenging Republican Rep. James Rogan of Glendale for the 27th Congressional District seat, has blanketed the district with attacks on Rogan’s role in the impeachment inquiry: “Is this why we sent Mr. Rogan to Washington?” a mailer asks voters.
Rogan, a former prosecutor and Municipal Court judge, voted to launch the impeachment inquiry and also advised House Speaker Newt Gingrich on how Congress should handle the findings of the independent counsel’s investigation.
Gordon said if he’s elected, Rogan’s role in the impeachment process would certainly “play a role.” Gordon is an actor, attorney and former president of the Screen Actors Guild.
But both Gordon and Rogan agree most voters will be more discriminating and not just focus on the Clinton ordeal. Gordon called Rogan “out of sync” with voters in the district, which includes Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank, because the Republican is anti-abortion, opposes an assault weapons ban and has aligned himself with Gingrich and right-wing Republicans.
Rogan called many of Gordon’s claims “distortion of my record,” and responded by releasing a campaign flier attacking the Democrat’s rocky personal financial history, which has included four tax liens and a filing for bankruptcy.
“I watched him for months misrepresent my record,” Rogan said. “It’s interesting how be began to squeal like a little stuck pig when I mentioned his financial mismanagement for the past 13 years.”
Nastiness Level Rises
The political temperature is just as hot across the Valley in the 24th Congressional District, where freshman Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is being opposed by businessman Randy Hoffman, a Republican from Thousand Oaks. The district includes their hometowns, as well as Encino, Woodland Hills, Malibu, Calabasas and Westlake Village.
The nastiness quotient in this race has moved higher with each passing day. On Friday, the Sherman campaign accused Hoffman supporters of misrepresenting themselves as Democrats and calling voters to bash Sherman. The same day, the Hoffman campaign contended that Sherman supporters were tearing down the Republican’s yard signs.
Both Sherman and Hoffman have waged the bulk of their campaigns through the mail, which has proved to be expensive, and both have cried foul over how their record and political positions have been portrayed.
“Absolute lies,” Sherman said of Hoffman’s campaign mailers, in almost the exact words that Hoffman has used to describe Sherman’s political fliers.
Last week Hoffman pumped nearly $200,000 of his money into the campaign--adding to the $550,000 the GOP candidate has already taken from his bank account. Hoffman, former president of Magellan Systems Inc., a high-tech firm in San Dimas, is worth an estimated $2 million to $7 million.
Dick Rosengarten, who handicaps California political races in his publication “California Political Week,” said he believes both the 24th and 27th congressional district races are leaning toward the incumbents--Sherman and Rogan. A recent Reuters poll had Sherman leading Hoffman by 13 points.
Rosengarten said the contest between Rogan and Gordon is less predictable. The Democrats have a slight majority of registered voters, and it’s possible there may be some backlash against Rogan on the Clinton impeachment inquiry, he said.
“It’s conceivable that Barry Gordon could pull it off, but I don’t think so,” Rosengarten said.
As it will be for most Democrats, a high voter turnout will be critical for Gordon. Secretary of State Bill Jones predicts upward of a 60% turnout, and both parties and most candidates are scrambling to make sure their supporters are among that 60%.
On Saturday, volunteers gathered at Rogan headquarters in Glendale to canvass precincts, handing out literature to target voters.
Todd Slosek, Hoffman’s campaign manager, said his group plans to do “a lot of phone banking” on Hoffman’s behalf. Slosek estimated that between Friday and Tuesday volunteers will have contacted 60,000 voters by phone.
Youths Being Tapped
While Republicans are pinning their hopes on absentee ballots as well as their members’ tendency to vote more faithfully, the Democrats hope to capitalize on the next generation.
State Assembly candidate Tony Cardenas (D--Sylmar) said he solicited and has received help from more than 150 local community college and high school students with his party’s coordinated get-out-the-vote efforts.
For weeks the youths have been using 50 phones from a San Fernando office to urge Democrats to vote, focusing heavily on statewide races. Cardenas described the effort as a powerful learning experience, particularly for the teens who attend Sylmar, San Fernando and North Hollywood high schools, among others.
“It’s hard to describe the excitement I see in them,” Cardenas said. “A lot of these young people feel empowered, and rightly so.”
Democratic candidates are also expected to benefit from get-out-the-vote efforts lodged by the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project. The group has registered an estimated 8,500 voters in the San Fernando Valley since last October, when it announced plans to register 35,000 Latino voters, according to Tony Vazquez of the group’s San Fernando Valley office.
While the project is nonpartisan, Vazquez estimated 75% of the new voters register as Democrats, compared with about 10% who register Republican.
Vazquez conceded this year’s ballot lacks a hot-button issue similar to ones that in the past have triggered Latinos to turn out in massive numbers, such as Proposition 187, the controversial measure to bar illegal immigrants from attending public schools and receiving social services and health care. Nonetheless, Vazquez said he believes there will be a strong Latino presence on election day.
Democratic Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon is the favorite to win the 20th state Senate District, which would make him the Valley’s first Latino state senator. But Alarcon has not moved easily to the edge of an expected victory, or done so without substantial cost.
Alarcon won the Democratic primary by 29 votes to beat Richard Katz, former Democratic leader in the Assembly. During that campaign, an Alarcon supporter sent a campaign mailer that falsely linked Katz to a 1988 incident in Orange County when Republicans attempted to intimidate Latino voters--a smear Katz called blatant race-baiting.
Incumbents Ride Ahead
In contrast to the primary, the general election has been a pleasant experience for Alarcon, who faces Republican Ollie McCaulley in a district dominated by Democratic voters.
Aside from Rogan and Sherman, the Valley’s other incumbent congressmen, Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills), face no opposition from the opposing major party but must contend with alternative-party candidates.
Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) faces no opposition, and most of the other local Assembly races have been low-key, dominated by well-financed incumbents facing much lesser-known challengers.
Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) faces Republican businesswoman Eunice DeLeuw of Van Nuys, and Assemblyman Cardenas (D-Sylmar) faces Libertarian candidate Christopher “Kit” Maira.
Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), the speaker pro tem, has come under heavier attack from Republican businessman K. Paul Jhin of Malibu, who has targeted the Democrat for failing to heed voter concerns in the Valley on the quality of public school education. Kuehl represents the Assembly’s 41st District, which includes Santa Monica, Encino and other portions of the West Valley.
The most contentious Assembly race by far has been the battle between Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) and Republican Ken LaCorte, a medical supplies company manager.
Scott, one of the Legislature’s strongest advocates of tighter regulations on assault weapons and cheap handguns, has been targeted by the Republican Party and the National Rifle Assn. A former Pasadena City College president, Scott has gained a reputation as a thoughtful, button-down lawmaker.
LaCorte, who says he supports reasonable gun restrictions and a crackdown on felons with guns, made headlines earlier this year for posting the names of dozens of Los Angeles County sex offenders on the Internet. The names were culled from the Megan’s Law CD-ROM.
The two are battling to represent the 44th Assembly District, which stretches from the northeast San Fernando Valley to La Canada-Flintridge and Pasadena. Scott, a freshman lawmaker, wrestled the seat from Republicans in 1996 when he beat incumbent Bill Hoge. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 45% to 39%, state election records show.
But LaCorte’s campaign has received a big boost from a group called Native American Tribes for Truth in Government, which has spent $150,000 on LaCorte’s election mailers.