Isolated at Home, McClintock Finds New Friends
Even as more California conservative leaders publicly call on him to clear the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger, state Sen. Tom McClintock has gained a national following.
Little known outside the state until now, McClintock has struck a chord with the right wing of the Republican Party nationwide with his frank presentation of his point of view -- anti-tax, anti-big government, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-illegal immigration, anti-gay marriage.
“Tom is one of us,” said Richard A. Viguerie, who has founded dozens of conservative organizations over the last 40 years and pioneered direct-mail fund-raising for the Republican Party in the 1970s and ‘80s. “And it’s so exciting to have someone who wants to be associated with us, who will walk with us, win or lose. I see Tom as being a major national conservative leader in the future.”
McClintock is seizing the moment.
Largely abandoned by California Republican officials, who are openly worried that he will cost them the governorship, McClintock traveled late Friday to Colorado for a fund-raiser held by an elite group of national conservatives. He raised more than $100,000 for his underfunded campaign and gained the endorsement of leaders influential with a national conservative audience, according to his campaign staff.
Viguerie and others are helping him tap the pocketbooks of the group, which helped finance Ronald Reagan’s political climb. Through his Virginia-based Conservative Headquarters, Viguerie said that he hopes to reach millions of conservatives nationwide on McClintock’s behalf, using e-mail lists, his Web site and his ties to more than 100 organizations.
The effort is a last-minute rush to raise money and is boosted by McClintock’s exposure in the national media, including televised debates and interviews. Already, his campaign advisors say, such appearances, particularly his performance in Wednesday’s nationally televised debate, have brought in donations from across the country, even as he has taken increasingly sharp hits from California Republicans for staying in the race. In addition to Internet contributions that sometimes amount to tens of thousands of dollars daily, his aides say, he is receiving a constant stream of e-mails from around the country, urging him not to back down.
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative advocacy group Eagle Forum, said last week’s debate brought McClintock to her attention. What she saw, she said, “was an authentic conservative” who deserved support.
“I don’t agree with the approach of compromising our principles or staying quiet to win elections. I think we’ve seen tremendous victories in recent Senate elections of people who are openly pro-life,” Schlafly said. “We don’t see moderation, pragmatism, what we call RINO Republicans as the way to go.” The abbreviation stands for Republicans in Name Only.
In some respects, McClintock’s emergence on the national stage, aided by the interest in Schwarzenegger, is a throwback to a time when the most conservative Republicans regularly caused trouble for their party.
“He’s the obstinate little man who is always popping up and throwing principle in their face,” said Tucker Carlson, who represents the right on CNN’s “Crossfire.” What Republicans really don’t like, he said, “is someone reminding them what they are supposed to stand for.”
How far McClintock’s principles will take him remains unknown. In the polls he is running third, behind fellow Republican Schwarzenegger and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in the race to replace Gov. Gray Davis, should voters decide to remove the governor from office in the Oct. 7 special election.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who bankrolled the petition-gathering effort that landed the recall on the ballot, endorsed Schwarzenegger on Friday. Bill Simon Jr. did the same the day before. Both men had previously dropped out of the race so the Republican vote would not be split.
McClintock lags far behind other top candidates in fund-raising, reporting just $1.7 million in donations, nearly all in small contributions, compared with $18.6 million for Schwarzenegger and more than $10 million for Bustamante. McClintock has benefited, however, from about $2.83 million spent on his behalf by Indian tribes and conservative Christians.
After Wednesday night’s debate, daily contributions via McClintock’s Web site doubled to $40,000, coming from supporters in “12 states and one aircraft carrier,” McClintock said.
His campaign staff has cast the surge in attention as a turning point. A McClintock victory, seen as a slim possibility by nearly all political observers, is still viewed as within reach by some of his prominent backers. Schwarzenegger, with his more liberal social positions, would be worse than a Democrat, they say.
If Schwarzenegger were running “as a Democrat, conservatives wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole,” said James Dobson, founder of the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family and one of those in Colorado who endorsed McClintock on Friday. “The only reason for conservatives to vote for him would be because they’re desperate for a win....
“Everybody’s saying McClintock can’t win. If all of the conservatives who are complaining about him would vote for him, I believe he would pull it off,” Dobson said.
Viguerie said Schwarzenegger “could wreak havoc on conservatives, like Pete Wilson did -- go out and try to organize primary opposition against conservatives and try to put the conservative leaders out of business by withholding party money from them.”
Among members of the Council for National Policy who were hosts at Friday’s fund-raiser, a posh reception at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, were Irvine businessman Howard Ahmanson Jr.; Gary Bauer of the Washington think tank American Values, a political leader among religious conservatives; Lewis K. Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee; and Reed Larson, president of the National Right to Work Committee.
The private organization was founded in 1981 by a small group of Californians and Western multimillionaires who made up then-President Ronald Reagan’s advisory “kitchen cabinet.” Its president is Donald Hodel, who was Interior secretary under Reagan. About 500 council members attended Friday’s fund-raiser. McClintock received a sustained standing ovation when he was introduced.
McClintock called the response “astonishing” and said he was seeking help from the conservative leaders because they share a fiscal and moral philosophy -- and he needed the money.
Saturday, at a $50-a-plate fund-raiser at a La Canada Flintridge home, where a country band played “Okie from Muskogee,” McClintock said the rush of new donations would allow him to reach his $4-million campaign goal, adding, “All we have to do is get our message out. We don’t have to outspend them.”
Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Sean Walsh downplayed McClintock’s candidacy in a conference call with reporters Saturday. “I don’t believe Mr. McClintock is in range or that he will be that significant in the election,” Walsh said.
McClintock welcomed the comments, saying: “Well good, then they shouldn’t be concerned about my continuing the race and now people are free to vote their conscience.”
State Librarian Kevin Starr said: “McClintock’s power is the power of a few clear ideas: pro-life and anti-gun control. Those are shocking statements given the overall political correctness of society. They will never make McClintock a majority candidate in California, but they will make him a decisive minority candidate.”
“He’s the Ralph Nader of the California Republican Party,” Starr said.
Some political observers doubt McClintock can sustain a position on the national stage past Oct. 7.
Carlson, who called the desertion of McClintock by some California conservatives “nauseating,” said nonetheless that he could never see the Republican National Committee throwing its support behind McClintock.
“The money people don’t just have distaste, they have contempt for people who are out there wagging their finger and telling them they are wrong to abandon their principles in order to win elections,” Carlson said.
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former national Republican Party strategist, said he was not surprised by McClintock’s appeal outside California or by the growing clamor within the state against him.
“California Republicans want to win. They’re sick of losing. They think a 75% friend is better than a 100% enemy,” Pitney said.
And Pitney said he doubted that McClintock, whose demeanor is more serious than charismatic, would emerge from an already crowded pack as a national conservative spokesman.
“On election day his carriage turns into a pumpkin,” Pitney said.
John Feliz, McClintock’s campaign director, thinks his boss has created a more lasting fan base.
“The very fact pressure is coming from the top and he’s held out and held firm has created an incredibly new awareness of political leadership. We’re getting e-mails by the hundreds and phone calls jamming us all day long, saying, ‘Tom, you don’t dare drop out of this race. You hang in there.’ ” Feliz said.
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Joe Mathews, Joel Rubin and Dan Morain contributed to this report.