Newport lawyer eyes Cox's seat

As Rep. Chris Cox's confirmation as head of the Securities and

Exchange Commission nears, possible Democratic candidates are taking

a more serious look at Cox's congressional seat.

One Democratic contender is Newport Beach attorney Steve Young,

who said Monday he plans to run for the seat that's been held by Cox

for the last 17 years and by a Republican for what seems like time

immemorial.

But Young will likely face a crowded Democratic primary, as well

as a fight to keep his party's voters from jumping ship. At least

half a dozen Democrats are mulling runs for the 48th District seat,

but some of the party faithful aren't convinced one of their own can

win.

The U.S. Senate Banking Committee was scheduled this morning to

begin confirmation hearings for Cox and two Democratic nominees for

posts on the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Young, 51, is a trial lawyer who takes over cases for other

attorneys, sometimes on the eve of a trial. Describing himself as a

fiscal conservative with Democratic ideals, Young said he's angry

that Congress recently cut medical benefits for veterans returning

from the war in Iraq.

A lifelong Republican until 2 1/2 years ago, Young hasn't been

politically active before now. He changed parties because of the Iraq

war.

"I didn't think that people were being honest in the

administration. When they couldn't tell us why we were going to Iraq,

it really started to bother me," Young said. "We shouldn't be

invading another country to establish democracy."

Cox was "an outstanding representative for his district" and would

have been unbeatable if he were staying in Congress, Young said. But

with the incumbent out, he thinks a Democrat could win.

"Now that there's this opening, I believe I could run the same

type of office as Chris Cox did and be just as responsive and

hopefully more," he said.

But Young may have to duke it out with other Democrats. UC Irvine

business professor John Graham, who has lost to Cox three times, has

said he might run again. About half a dozen Democrats have expressed

interest in the seat, said Susan Freeze, a member of the Orange

County Democratic Party's central committee.

Such an abundance of Democratic candidates in the 48th

Congressional District is unusual, but this is also an unusual

situation. The seat will be filled in a special election, but who

gets on the ballot will be decided in an earlier open primary, when

voters can choose any candidate, regardless of their party

registration.

But a Democrat winning isn't inconceivable, UC Irvine political

scientist Mark Petracca said. For that to happen, first there would

need to be several Republicans on the ballot to split the GOP vote.

So far, so good: state Sen. John Campbell and former Assemblywoman

Marilyn Brewer are already raising money, and former Rep. Bob Dornan

-- a lifelong Republican -- has said he might run, although he's

flirted with running on the American Independent party ticket. Other

GOP candidates have said they're waiting until Cox officially quits

the House to decide.

But hopefuls might run into trouble with step 2: a Democratic

candidate would need the full backing of party voters, high name

recognition and lots of money, Petracca said.

Jene Witte, a Democratic voter who lives in Newport Beach, thinks

Democratic votes could be siphoned off by other considerations. She

has supported Brewer in the past, and she plans to again because

Brewer has stood up for women's health issues such as abortion

rights.

"It's just that I think that, pragmatically, she has a far greater

chance of winning, and we'd like to get another pro-choice vote in

Congress," Witte said.

"I want to go with the person I think can win."

Brewer's stance on abortion rights has won her the backing of

Women In Leadership, an Orange County-based nonpartisan political

group that has planned a fundraiser for Brewer Aug. 4 in Costa Mesa.

The group's goal is to elect women who support abortion rights. So

far, no Democratic candidates fill that bill, said Pam Gilmour, Women

In Leadership's board president.

"A Democrat is not going to win Chris Cox's seat. It's not going

to happen, whereas being a moderate Republican will win that seat,"

Gilmour said. "We're looking for viability and Marilyn definitely has

it."

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