Gray crusades as dark horse

Alicia Robinson

While his opponents think his political future is fading to black,

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray is aiming to be the dark

horse in the U.S. Senate race.

As the Libertarian candidate challenging Democratic Sen. Barbara

Boxer, the 59-year-old Newport Beach resident has kept up a vigorous

campaign schedule that included visits to medical marijuana clinics

in Northern California, speaking engagements in South Central Los

Angeles and taping television ads that will air the week before the

Nov. 2 election.

Though his opponents have largely dismissed him, Gray's positions

are bold. If elected, Gray said he would want to see U.S. troops

pulled out of Iraq by the end of the year. He's also opposed to the

so-called war on drugs and the Patriot Act, and he wants to get the

federal government out of public education and health care.

And he may be the choice of close to 10% of likely voters. A poll

he requested showed him at 8%, and he said he's heard higher numbers.

"People are listening," Gray said. "Libertarians are elated about

this election. Libertarians have never been above 2%, and we have

almost two months to go."

While he's been embraced by Libertarians, Gray said his defection

from the GOP -- of which he was a lifelong member until announcing

his senate candidacy -- hasn't provoked a backlash from Republicans.

"They're concerned that I will take away votes from [Republican

candidate] Bill Jones, and my direct, honest response to them is Bill

Jones has no chance of beating Barbara Boxer," Gray said.

Gray's popularity in a poll he commissioned, however, wasn't

enough to get him into a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate

earlier this month, and that really hurt his campaign, he said.

Both his major party opponents have scads more campaign money than

Gray, who said he's pulled in about $200,000. July financial reports

showed Jones has raised about $3.3 million, and Boxer netted $11.8

million in this election cycle.

People would take more notice of Gray's candidacy if he could be

in a debate, but even that wouldn't give him enough of a boost to

defeat an incumbent senator in such a heavily Democratic state, said

Louis DeSipio, UC Irvine associate professor of political science.

"It seems to me that it would take a remarkable error on the part

of the Boxer campaign for Sen. Boxer to lose [her] lead," he said.

"She would have to do something to alienate a large part of her core

constituency, and she's a skilled politician."

But Libertarians don't necessarily run for office to win; they

want to get their ideas into the debate, DeSipio said.

The party has a good spokesman in Gray, whose background in the

legal system gives him credibility, said Lawrence Samuels, the

northern vice-chairman for the Libertarian Party of California.

"We've got new members, new people. It's helped quite a bit,"

Samuels said of his candidacy.

The key to winning is getting his message out, Gray said, and he

has been trying to get his name included in polling by the Field Poll

and Public Policy Institute of California.

"I'm hoping that he gets somewhere around 8%, 9%, 10%, gets into

the debates and people take us seriously," Samuels said.

If things go as observers expect, after election day Gray will

return to his judgeship, from which he took a leave of absence to

campaign.

In the meantime, he'll keep talking to groups he says don't have

much of a political voice.

"Somebody said recently, 'If God wanted us to vote, he would have

given us candidates,'" Gray said. "I'm trying to give them a

candidate."

* ALICIA ROBINSON covers business, politics and the environment.

She may be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail at

alicia.robinson@latimes.com.

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