Conservatives ramp up attacks on Campbell over his moderate social views


Senate candidate Tom Campbell has long argued that, in an election season marked by economic concerns and anger at Washington, his moderate social views won’t cost him the support of largely conservative Republican primary voters. That theory is about to be tested.

Three outside groups are stepping into the GOP race to try to drive home the message that the former congressman’s views on same-sex marriage and abortion rights — he favors both — and on gun rights, where he favors some restrictions, are at odds with the voters who will decide the party’s nominee June 8.

Campbell’s argument has been that as a fiscal conservative and social moderate he is more in line with California voters than his two opponents, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. His positions make him the stronger candidate against Sen. Barbara Boxer, he argues.

Conservative groups disagree, saying that the strongest candidate for Republicans will be one who can mobilize the party’s rank and file. “This is a critical primary; whoever wins has a real shot at defeating Barbara Boxer,” said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes Campbell. “The last thing that we need is a Republican who is going against his own party’s platform.”

The debate underscores a key decision facing Republican primary voters in contests around the country — whether they can best capitalize on voter discontent by nominating down-the-line conservatives or more centrist candidates. So far, in primary contests around the country, most of the energy has been with conservative activists. In California, however, where Democrats have a large edge in voter registration, Republican moderates argue that adherence to party orthodoxy has harmed their party in the past.

None of those arguments hold sway with activists like Brown. The National Organization for Marriage, which already spent $300,000 this spring on anti-Campbell television ads, has begun making automated calls to more than 600,000 likely Republican voters, emphasizing Campbell’s opposition to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure banning gay marriage.

Brown said the group’s polling made clear that many Republican voters did not know Campbell’s position on same-sex marriage. His group plans to spend at least $200,000 before the primary to make sure they do.

Beginning Monday, many of those same voters will be the target of at least three rounds of calls by the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports women candidates who oppose abortion. The group has endorsed Fiorina. Its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said Campbell’s abortion views have been “a great mystery” to voters.

“There is a great smoking out going on about his position now,” she added.

In addition to soliciting contributions to Fiorina’s campaign, the group plans to spend $3 million on four or five “top-tier” Senate races, including California’s.

The third group entering the fray is the National Rifle Assn., which sent a bright orange postcard to its members beginning last week slamming Campbell for favoring gun-show regulations, a waiting period before the sale of handguns and restrictions on the sale of assault weapons.

The new wave of attacks is not the first Campbell has faced in this election cycle.

An Iowa-based group, the American Future Fund, has spent $2 million on television ads and mailings criticizing his record on taxes. Americans for Tax Reform has used its blog to publicize Campbell’s refusal to sign their pledge to vote against tax increases. GOProud, a group of gay conservatives, has been pushing a Web ad critical of Campbell’s tax record.

The broadsides, which Campbell characterizes as a blend of inaccuracies and half-truths, do not appear to have significantly eroded his standing in the polls. A statewide survey released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Fiorina and Campbell in a statistical tie — nearly identical to where they were in March.

But the new efforts, coupled with Fiorina’s own television advertising, could pose a threat to Campbell, according to UC- San Diego political science professor Gary Jacobson.

“He makes a tempting target,” Jacobson said, adding that many voters are just tuning in. “Clearly it will hurt him if ordinary Republicans are reminded of his moderation.”

Campbell disputes the idea that his views are not known and said he thinks voters will appreciate that his beliefs are rooted in a desire for smaller government and individual liberty.

While he emphasizes economic issues over social issues in the campaign, Campbell has not hesitated to defend his positions.

He said he voted against a ban on late-term abortions because the legislation did not have an exception for the health of the mother. When asked whether taxpayer funds should be used for abortion procedures, he said he has opposed efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for “women’s reproductive health, just as I would oppose efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for conditions specific to men’s reproductive health.”

He urged Republicans to vote against Proposition 8, the 2008 measure to ban same-sex marriage in California, because “government has no business making distinctions between people based on their personal lives.” (Now that California voters have made their choice, their decision “should not be overturned in court,” he said.)

Campbell insists that this year, GOP voters will not care as much about those views; they “do not appear to have much traction,” he said. In the remaining weeks, he said, he will win over Republican voters with his budget and deficit proposals and by contrasting his votes on fiscal issues with Boxer’s.

“I believe I win the primary on that issue,” Campbell said. “I have a reasonable plan to continue to focus on economic issues and not let the effort to move the focus succeed.”