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GOP Frontrunner Jones Looks Ahead to Boxer Match

Times Staff Writers

Hoping to woo voters beyond Tuesday’s primary election, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones called Saturday for the government to buy back 36 undeveloped oil leases off Southern California’s coast, while fellow GOP candidate Rosario Marin mingled with merchants and shoppers along Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street.

Both candidates are among 10 GOP hopefuls who’d like a chance to unseat Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer this fall after a primary race that has seen them fighting for money and attention.

Jones, who has led in opinion polls, stood near the Santa Barbara Pier and faulted Boxer for failing to resolve a decades-old threat of additional offshore oil operations that are soundly opposed by most voters. He said the federal government should buy back three dozen undeveloped leases that stretch from Oxnard to San Luis Obispo -- as it did with similar leases off the Florida coast.

The Bush administration announced last March that it would drop its legal fight with California over the leases and try to buy them back. Last month, however, Boxer and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) sent a letter to President Bush urging him to comply with a court order to provide information about the leases needed by the California Coastal Commission for state review.

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Surrounded by about a dozen supporters Saturday, Jones suggested that, as a Republican, he would be better suited than Boxer to work with Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to resolve the matter -- even if he formerly supported offshore drilling.

“Barbara Boxer has continually used [offshore oil drilling] as a wedge issue to discuss, debate and demagogue it,” Jones said. “But she has never been able to bring the parties together to actually solve this for the people of California.”

Boxer’s campaign strategist, Roy Behr, dismissed Jones’ criticism, saying Boxer has been a leader in stopping attempts to drill off California. Jones’ criticism “is like an overweight couch potato calling Arnold Schwarzenegger weak on fitness,” he said.

Jones has also come under fire on the issue from moderates in his own party. Last week, fellow GOP candidate Toni Casey, a former mayor of Los Altos Hills, argued that Jones’ past support of offshore drilling would hurt him among the Democrats and independents he would need to win in November.

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While serving in the Assembly, Jones voted against the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which banned new offshore oil drilling along the state’s coast.

The issues raised along Marin’s walk down Olvera Street were affordable healthcare, the economy and the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

Marin spent an hour weaving through shopping stalls hung with leather handbags, ruffled dresses, jewelry and movie posters. She toggled between English and Spanish, trailed by an entourage.

Merchant John Garcia, a registered Democrat, grabbed a brochure after chatting with the former U.S. treasurer and taped it to his glass display case. He snatched a handful of brochures to give to shoppers.

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“We have so many political people come in office and I can’t tell you how many walk these streets, from John Kennedy to [Richard] Nixon, and they all tell us what they’re going to do for us,” said Garcia, whose family has sold wares on Olvera Street since 1932.

“They want all us Latins to vote for them [but] then they forget.... I would rather vote for someone who might make a difference than keep voting for someone I know hasn’t made a difference for us.”

Later, Marin paid $10 to have her handwriting analyzed at a tiny booth, an impromptu stop that delighted her staff as they whipped out some of the nation’s 20 billion notes that feature Marin’s signature on the front.

“You are an extremely cautious woman,” mused analyst Elizabeth Ramos as she scanned a sample of Marin’s large, looping script. “You are honest and loyal. Those are very important qualities to you.... You are very stubborn, so that’s how you get things accomplished. You don’t give up.”

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Elsewhere Saturday, fellow candidate Howard Kaloogian appeared at news conferences in Sacramento and San Francisco to promote his threatened recall of Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer over what he said was Lockyer’s failure to blunt San Francisco’s issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The issue, which prompted Bush to go on television last week and call for a constitutional amendment to ban such marriages, was not the focus of the Olvera Street shoppers or beachgoers in Santa Barbara.

Jones touched on an issue that was raised on Olvera Street -- the rising price of gasoline. He pledged to work with the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations to promote alternative energies, including hydrogen fuels. The candidates will continue campaigning today -- Jones at a Sacramento restaurant, Marin at a swap meet at the Orange County Fairgrounds.


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