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Big Tent to Be Tested When Gov. Attends Carona Bash

Times Staff Writer

The reelection campaign of Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona is hoping for a major boost Thursday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger headlines a gala fundraiser for the sheriff in Dana Point.

The event is also likely to provide another indicator of the governor’s success at mending fences with Republicans, who have been annoyed at the some of his recent actions.

In particular, GOP activists in Orange County howled over his appointment of former Democratic operative Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff. Some suggested that the governor had gone too far in reaching out to Democrats after losing four ballot initiatives in the November special election.

Among the most outspoken is a major organizer of Thursday’s event for Carona.

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The sheriff’s campaign advisor is former state Republican party Chairman Michael Schroeder, who last month wrote an opinion piece in the Orange County Register titled “This governor should be terminated.”

“Gov. Schwarzenegger should not run for reelection and should no longer enjoy the endorsement of the California Republican Party if he does so,” wrote Schroeder, who joined other GOP conservatives angry over Kennedy’s appointment.

Schwarzenegger’s appearance -- despite Schroeder’s broadside -- shows the GOP tent is big enough to accommodate such a slight, said John J. Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

The governor “is a guy who’s proving he doesn’t keep an enemies list,” Pitney said. “At this point in his governorship, it probably doesn’t help him and his party by holding grudges. It’s also his way of showing that he’s above the fray and he’s not going to let this bother him.”

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Schroeder, who estimated that the event could pull in as much as $650,000, said he was grateful that the governor agreed to come. He said he’d be attending but joked, “I’ll be sitting in the kitchen.”

It also could give Carona a sizable financial advantage over three opponents with law enforcement credentials who are seeking to block his bid for a third four-year term.

A successful event would be a testament to Carona’s popularity, said Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, and would say that “Orange County Republicans and the financial community are backing the sheriff.”

“You need more than $1 million to get your message out countywide, and Mike Carona is the only candidate who will exceed that number,” Baugh said.

The fundraiser comes at a tricky time for Carona.

The attorney general is investigating allegations that Carona sexually harassed two women and sexually assaulted one of them. Carona also is weathering a series of other scandals: A former and current aide are facing criminal prosecution, and questions have surfaced about how he spent $110,000 of his campaign money.

Carona has denied any wrongdoing.

Schwarzenegger is a frequent target of protesters, but on Thursday, Carona may draw detractors as well. An anti-Carona website encouraged “all ethical people” to protest outside the hotel.

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Victim-rights advocate Denise Brown, whose sister Nicole Brown Simpson was killed in 1994, said she was troubled that the governor would help Carona raise campaign money in light of a state attorney general’s investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment against the sheriff.

“These allegations are not laughing matters. They’re extremely serious,” said Brown, who lives in Dana Point. “I think the people who are attending should rethink where their dollars are going.... If [Carona] treats women like that, what kind of message does that send to his police officers? Are women going to be able to say help me, or feel safe calling 911?”

Of the sheriff’s challengers, none has come near to raising the funds of the incumbent. Donors are limited to giving a maximum of $1,500 to candidates under the county’s campaign finance rules.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ralph Martin reported raising the most cash from July 1 through Dec. 31 in year-end reports due Tuesday -- he collected $103,000 and had $96,000 on hand.

“I would rather have my $100,000 and my campaign team as opposed to Mike Carona’s million with all his ethical and legal baggage,” Martin said Tuesday. “I’m comfortable with our position, and he’s going to need every dime of his million dollars to defend his reckless record.”

Other challengers include Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. William Hunt, who has raised $106,000 for his campaign, including $40,000 from July 1 through Dec. 31. Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert G. Alcaraz has lent himself $100,000 for the campaign.

Carona raised just $27,000 in the last six months of 2005. But his campaign reported raising about $350,000 for his reelection as of Dec 31.

Political fund-raisers in Orange County have generated big bucks for Republicans. The largest occurred in 2000 when two events raised more than $2 million for George W. Bush.

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In 1988, President Reagan raised about $500,000 for then-Gov. Pete Wilson in Orange County. More than 1,000 party activists paid $500 a plate to nibble on meatloaf Wellington and broccoli, and sip white wine.

Among the guests in 1988: actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Times staff writer Christine Hanley contributed to this report.


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