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48th District Candidate Is No-Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic congressional candidate Peter Kouvelis is missing in action.

The former Marine captain who is seeking the 48th District seat held by retiring Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad) hasn’t been heard from or seen among local Democrats since April, when he made a brief appearance at the Orange County Democratic convention.

He has skipped endorsement interviews, disconnected his phone and hasn’t returned worried calls from party officials, including the county’s ranking Democratic leader. Even his campaign chairman has given up on him.

“He fell off the face of the earth,” said Jerrod Menz, who resigned as campaign manager after Kouvelis failed to return his calls.

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“This is a real quandary for us,” said Jeanne Costales, chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party. “At this point, I don’t know what to do.”

A home number in Los Angeles for Kouvelis, 34, was answered Tuesday by a generic message machine. By Wednesday, it had been disconnected. Callers to a second number, this one to a rented condominium in Dana Point, are told that no messages can be stored because the mailbox is full.

Two weeks ago, Patrick Birkett, president of the JFK Good Works Democratic Club of South County, sent a certified letter to Kouvelis’ campaign address--a post-office box in Dana Point--demanding an explanation. He never got one.

“He was a young, new face, and he looked like the kind of guy who could develop into a great candidate,” said Birkett, who spoke with Kouvelis weekly before the March primary. “Obviously, we’re deeply disappointed.”

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Efforts to reach Kouvelis’ family were unsuccessful. Police say no missing person reports have been filed and no one involved in the campaign expressed concern about his well-being.

On all fronts, Kouvelis appeared to be a committed candidate. He contacted Democratic leaders 18 months ago, eager to resign from the Marine Corps to run against Packard. The veteran congressman later announced he would be retiring, marginally improving Kouvelis’ chances in a district where Republicans hold a 2-to-1 registration edge.

Undaunted, Kouvelis spent $20,000 to win the primary against challenger Richard Maguire, a Dana Point mortgage broker. He schmoozed with party leaders and even made a campaign trip to Sacramento with State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove).

“It’s kind of funny that a guy would put [in] so much effort . . . and disappear,” Maguire said Wednesday. “I think he’s a Republican. I’m elated because he showed his true colors.”

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Party officials said they had no inkling that Kouvelis was less than sincere. However, some supporters said they got worried when he told them he was a former Republican and had worked as a campaign volunteer for former Gov. Pete Wilson. One of Kouvelis’ sisters worked for Packard for three years, Packard’s staff confirmed, and the ex-Marine had even visited Packard’s home several years ago.

“We knew him as ‘Peter the Marine,’ ” Packard’s former chief of staff Don Polese said, adding that Kouvelis’ sister left Packard’s office five years ago.

Dale Neugebauer, campaign manager for Republican nominee Darrell Issa, said Issa and Kouvelis became friendly before the primary at more than a dozen candidate forums. But Kouvelis didn’t attend a cable television taping in Vista last month or a San Diego County newspaper endorsement interview. Issa called Kouvelis to check on him but the call wasn’t returned.

Menz said Kouvelis had been discouraged by slow fund-raising and groused that the party wasn’t doing more to help him.

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“I think it was more political naivete than sabotage,” Menz said. “If he would have just called us and said, ‘I don’t have a chance and I need to get a job,’ we wouldn’t have been thrilled, but at least we’d know.”

Other candidates in the Nov. 7 election are Libertarian Michael Cobb of Dana Point, the Natural Law Party’s Sharon Miles of Laguna Niguel and the Reform Party’s Eddie Rose, also of Laguna Niguel.


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