The resignation of Congressman Christopher Cox, who left the House after being appointed as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Bush, has caused a special election in the heart of Orange County, in one of the most Republican House districts in California. The registration in the 48th District is 50 percent GOP to 27 percent Democratic. Governor Schwarzenegger has called the election for Dec. 6, which makes the primary Oct 4.
If there was ever "safe" GOP territory, this would be it: The 48th takes in the coastal cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Dana Point, and stretches inland to take in Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Irvine, Lake Forest, Tustin and Orange.
The front-runner to succeed Cox is state Sen. John Campbell, who is very much in the mold of Cox, an ideologue whose rhetoric could have been memorized from the speeches of Ronald Reagan. Campbell has been successful in the automotive business, and boasts high name ID, having just been elected to the state Senate last year. Campbell has secured an array of prominent endorsers, crowned by a rare pre-primary endorsement from the Governor.
Campbell’s swearing-in would be a fait accompli, were it not for two bumps on the road -- liberal former GOP Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer, and an American Independent, Jim Gilchrist, who has attained notoriety as the spokesman for the Minuteman Project (the citizens who patrolled the Mexican border, looking for illegal border crossings). There are 14 other candidates, all long shots.
A special election primary is ‘open,’ which means all voters will have an opportunity to vote for any of the candidates. If one candidate exceeds 50 percent of the total vote, he or she is immediately elected. If not, then the top vote-getter of each political party moves on to the general election.
Back to those two speed bumps: Neither should be a problem for Campbell, if he runs hard and his consultant, Dave Gilliard, performs up to his capabilities. As well-regarded pollster Adam Probolsky pointed out, "The special election will attract the more traditional voter who will likely reject Brewer for her lack of credentials with conservative Republicans."
On the primary ballot, Brewer will run as a maverick, touting her endorsement from U.S. Sen. John McCain, who Brewer endorsed for President. Brewer was originally elected to the Assembly when two conservatives split the vote. She and her consultant, Harvey Englander, were hoping for at least one other prominent GOP conservative in this latest race. Without that, a strategy of combining some Republican votes with cross-over votes from Democrat and Decline-to-State voters starts to become very sketchy.
Brewer’s hopes lie with the enigmatic Jim Gilchrist. Gilchrist, a registered member of the American Independent Party, will be running on the immigration issue. If Gilchrist takes enough conservative votes from Campbell, would it allow Brewer to slide through?
The dynamics work against this ‘perfect storm’ scenario for Brewer. Gilchrist will be pinning his hopes not on the primary, but on the general election. As long as Campbell doesn’t win it outright in October, Gilchrist is likely to hold his presumably scarce resources for this face-off in December.
A group of conservative organizations have formed "The Successor Project" to try and ensure that a conservative is elected. I suspect they will end up pushing for Campbell. Though, Campbell’s recent endorsement from Orange County’s premier moderate GOP group, The New Majority, might give them pause.
All of the strange permutations of this race may lead to shenanigans and unexpected turns in the road -- ranging from the Democrat Party sending mail to their voters, reminding them not to vote for Brewer, the GOP sending mail their voters, reminding them not
to vote for Gilchrist.
My conclusion is this: The dynamics of this race may be fun to write about, but for Brewer to win the GOP nomination, or Gilchrist the election in December, it would require some level of Divine intervention. It’s Campbell’s race to lose. If he doesn’t stumble, he’ll be Congressman Campbell to you and me.