Here's hoping for a year of political battles

With Rep. Chris Cox officially ensconced in the lead chair of the

Securities and Exchange Commission, we have before us a

once-in-a-generation series of political battles that, if all goes

well, could occupy us for the next year.

That's right, the next year. That's a best-case scenario, but

before I detail it, a caveat (one of my occasional ones): I typically

try to skirt talking solely about the game (or horse race, if you

rather) of politics. As entertaining and interesting as the maneuvers

and minor hits and starts can be, there ought to be something

substantive behind it all. Politics, after all, does matter.

This week, though, the only thing that matters is the horse race

and just how long it will last. This column's bottom-line bias is for

as long a competitive political season as possible.

Here's how that year of politics could come about.

We're waiting right now for the official dates for the race to

replace Cox. Given that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who yesterday

endorsed state Sen. John Campbell) has another 12 days to call a

special election, the latest we'll see a first primary vote is

mid-October. That's when the first "hopeful ifs" begin.

In that primary, we hope that no candidate gets more than 50% of

the vote. If no one does, then in another eight weeks there will be a

general election among the top vote-getters from the different

political parties.

Of course, this election will be a fait accompli. Whichever

Republican takes the primary will win the seat.

Right now the two GOPers vying for the seat are Campbell and

former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer. Campbell strengthened his

position mightily with the governor's backing, which would certainly

seem to trump Brewer's John McCain endorsement in terms of star power

and influence in these parts. The governor isn't nearly as popular as

he was, but he brings a more moderate (and competitive with McCain)

appeal to Campbell than does the senator's other early endorsement

from the Lincoln Club.

I don't see how Campbell can pull the more than 50% he needs to be

back in Washington by Halloween, but if he can stake out enough

moderate territory, he'll be the eventual winner.

That is, unless some third Republican appears in the race -- maybe

from Irvine or another South County part of the Congressional

district. I felt certain a week ago that one more big name (no, not

Bob Dornan) would enter. That seems increasingly unlikely.

Back to our races.

Campbell, setting aside political beliefs or philosophies, should

be your choice if you want this great political season to last. If he

wins, you see, Assemblyman Tom Harman of Huntington Beach plans to

run for Campbell's Senate seat, which essentially covers Harman's and

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore's two areas.

The primary election for this race likely could be no sooner than

mid- to late January. Right now, Harman and former Assemblyman and

county GOP chairman Scott Baugh are the presumptive leaders in this

race. Their battle would occupy the usually quiet end-of-the-year

months.

As with the race to replace Cox, whichever Republican wins the

primary will win the general -- again, hoping that no one in the

primary gets more than 50% of the vote.

That general election would come sometime in mid-March.

But wait, there's more.

The next "hopeful if" is that Harman wins in the general election.

That would open up his seat (which he's having to vacate because of

term limits at the end of 2006 anyway) about six months early.

Unless the seat is left vacant so close to an election, a third

special election could be called. This would force Orange County

Supervisor Jim Silva, who -- along with Harman's wife, Dianne Harman

-- plans to run to fill the Assembly seat, to decide if he wanted to

leave his seat early to try for a spot in Sacramento.

At this point, we are looking at a primary in early May and a

final general election possibly in late June. And that is as close to

a year from now as you can get in politics.

OK, I can't leave the really worthwhile aspect to all these races

alone. In these possible battles between Republicans, which is such a

rarity in Orange County, we will be treated to more substantive

discussions of issues -- possibly including but not limited to the

environment, abortion, taxation and the role of government -- than we

usually get.

And those discussion just might help us elect the best person for

the job.

* S.J. CAHN is the managing editor. He may be reached at (714)

966-4607 or by e-mail at o7s.j.cahn@latimes.comf7.

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