Farr From Washington
Bill McCampbell's fourth attempt at Congress may be a symptom of a polarized Republican Party.
Thursday, October 29, 1998
He first ran in ''92 on the Republican ticket against Leon Panetta for the 17th Congressional District seat, and lost. Then he ran again in the ''93 special election to replace Panetta, and lost to Sam Farr. In ''94 he vied to unseat Farr, and lost. Nevertheless, this election year, Bill McCampbell once again has set his sights on Washington. According to McCampbell and those who know him, it''s an honest-to-goodness spirit of self-sacrifice that keeps McCampbell blazing the campaign trail.
"He is for real," says Brett Landon, chair of the Monterey County Republican Party. "He doesn''t have the [politics] bug, he really does want to help people."
But McCampbell''s own altruism aside, political insiders marvel at the local Republican Party''s apparent inability to produce a viable candidate capable of challenging Sam Farr. In light of his highly criticized PAC-funded campaign budget and a less than stellar performance in Washington, Farr is considered by Republicans to be potentially vulnerable.
"I think Sam Farr is weak, he has coattailed his way into office, and he has really not distinguished himself in Congress," says Kevin Hulsey, a local artist active in the Republican Party. "He has some vulnerability in this race."
But the Republican dilemma, according to local GOP insiders, is two-fold: The 17th Congressional District, which includes all of Monterey and San Benito County counties and part of Santa Cruz County, is heavily skewed Democratic. Of registered voters in the district, roughly 52 percent are Democrats and 29 percent are Republicans. Republican insiders also say an internal philosophical struggle within the local party has weakened its ability to communicate a clear message to voters and to muster support for neophyte candidates.
"The numbers don''t allow Republicans to win," says Susan Whitman, a former Pacific Grove City Councilmember who ran on the Republican ticket against Sam Farr for the 27th District Assembly seat that Farr used to occupy. "It''s a numbers game."
Moreover, the Republicans'' ineffectiveness in recruiting young, polished candidates may be related to a schism--both locally and nationally--between moderate and conservative party members. At the crux of that schism are environmental issues, minority rights, and the ever-looming abortion issue.
"That conservative part [of the Republican Party] in Salinas are anti-McPherson, anti-women, anti-[Governor Pete] Wilson," says a local Republican insider who asked for anonymity, "and very Pat Buchanan."
Yet Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz Republicans are usually more middle-of-the-road and, while fiscally conservative, many--including McCampbell--are moderately pro-choice and environmentalist. In fact, McCampbell lists environmental protection and keeping abortion legal alongside reducing government and abolishing the IRS as his top priorities.
"This area is so environmentally oriented, you can''t not address those issues," Hulsey says. "You have to be a Republican of the [state Senator Bruce] McPherson ilk, but the national Republican powers-that-be don''t like candidates like that."
The local Republican schism is perhaps best illustrated by the area''s two local Republican representatives, Assemblymember Peter Frusetta and State Senator and former 27th Assembly District representative Bruce McPherson. Frusetta, who represents the more conservative 28th District including the Salinas Valley, has a conservative voting record and his legislation efforts primarily address agricultural and crime issues. On the other hand, McPherson, a decidedly moderate Republican, was victorious in the heavily Democratic 27th District largely due to his pro-environmentalist stance.
Still, party officials like Landon refute the existence of a local Republican schism. He maintains that--considering their registration disadvantage--local Republicans have fared well. "We''ve never left a seat unchallenged," he says. "Of the four major seats that we are technically responsible for, we hold 50 percent of those [state Senator Bruce McPherson and 28th District Assemblymember Peter Frusetta.] We are doing better than average. We''re winning on a message, not a party line."
But that message, Republicans say, is nevertheless having difficulty finding its way to voters'' ears: A barrage of Democratic mudslinging, they say, repels would-be Republicans''.
"Communication is half the battle," says Landon. "It''s very challenging trying to go through the minefield of misinformation. It makes it very hard to communicate a message."
"I think the Republican Party has taken some big hits as far as the minority communication is concerned," says Hulsey. "Democrats have been successful at mischaracterizing Republican intentions for minorities. It''s absolutely absurd that Republicans are anti-minority. The Republican Party would have people look less to government and more to a free market and personal responsibility."
Within any campaign, the difference between the winner and the loser often comes down to money, and locally, fundraising potential may favor Democrats. "The Republican Party doesn''t waste time losing races," says Whitman. "The problem is that money is the mother''s milk of politics. People with big money to donate won''t...unless you''re a millionaire [yourself] which is true of Bruce [McPherson]."
If that is so, then McCampbell has a tough row to hoe: He says that he went $95,000 in debt due to previous campaign expenses and sold his home in Pebble Beach to cover it.
Moreover, McCampbell, a staunch supporter of finance reform that would disallow Congressional candidates from accepting special interest money, refuses to except PAC money for his campaign, even from the Republican Party itself. [Although, it is unclear if the Republicans would have offered support, anyway.] His campaign, which has raised $90,114 according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), is entirely funded by contributions from individuals.
Farr, on the other hand, is backed by an army of special interest group with deep pockets: His contributor list reads like a list of who''s who in labor unions and corporate agriculture. Since 1993, he has received over $1 million in PAC contributions. FEC figures show that his current campaign has raised $324,342.
"It takes money to run a campaign," says Angel Garcia, a local Republican campaign advisor, "because campaigns are motivated by the media. For example, if a district is covered by five newspapers, a candidate has to advertise in all those papers. That takes money."
So how do Republicans win the 17th Congressional District? "I think our message will win eventually," says Landon. "We''re for the working family. Bill is the perfect kind of guy to get in there and represent this district."
But Garcia says that little short of revamping the entire party platform will help. The Republican Party has to come up with a new general plan, he says, that reaches out to a greater diversity of voters.
And, says Hulsey, the Republican Party must avoid the "abortion trap," a political switchblade that Democrats can hold to the collective Republican throat. For example, says Hulsey, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gray Davis is successfully playing the abortion card against Republican candidate Dan Lungren in the California governor''s race, when, in fact, the governor has no direct role in the abortion issue.
"[Republicans] believe in less government, but on abortion we''re going to decide for you. It''s hypocrisy," says Hulsey. "As long as we have inconsistent messages, it''s going to keep us [from winning]."