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Carona Ally Switches to Election Rival

Times Staff Writer

An influential Republican businessman and longtime supporter of Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona said Tuesday he would endorse one of the sheriff’s opponents in what’s expected to be a contentious race for the county’s top law enforcement job.

Mario Rodriguez, the former vice chairman of the state Republican Party who headed President Bush’s 2004 Western regional campaign, said he’d grown weary of the scandals surrounding the Sheriff’s Department and would support Lt. Bill Hunt in next year’s election.

“We need a new sheriff,” Rodriguez said.

Carona has weathered a series of controversies, including the indictment of one of his former assistant sheriffs. A second assistant quit to focus on his son’s criminal trial, and one of his captains was indicted for allegedly soliciting donations to the sheriff’s campaign from fellow employees.

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Meanwhile, the state attorney general is investigating allegations that the sheriff sexually harassed two women.

Hunt oversees sheriff’s operations in the city of San Clemente and is one of three candidates vying to unseat Carona, who is seeking a third term. Other rivals are Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Ralph Martin of Coto de Caza and retired L.A. County sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Alcaraz of Newport Beach.

Rodriguez, who lives in San Clemente and owns a promotional and advertising company there, has supported Carona since his first campaign and is one of his reserve deputies. He is the first prominent Carona backer to announce a shift in allegiance.

Carona supporters dismissed Rodriguez’s departure as being of little consequence.

“It’s a big shrug,” said Michael Schroeder, a campaign spokesman for Carona.

“Virtually nobody knows who Mario Rodriguez is,” he said. “And the sheriff is endorsed by every state senator, Assembly member and county officeholder and mayor of a major city who’s endorsed, and has an overwhelming lead in endorsements and fundraising.”

Hunt, who is indeed trailing Carona in fundraising, said he was thrilled to have Rodriguez’s endorsement.


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