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Benoit, Huff, Walters head to Senate after blowout wins

The state Senate Republican caucus this November will be saying “adios” to a few of its most seasoned members with the retirements of Bob Margett, Dick Ackerman, Jim Battin, and Tom McClintock.

On Tuesday, Republican primary voters made some pretty overwhelming decisions on who they wanted to have replace Margett, Ackerman and Battin. All three of these term-limited legislators represent districts in the Republican heartland, where the GOP nominations conferred are tantamount to a guaranteed victory this November.

When the campaign started for the 29th District seat of Bob Margett, former Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, who had termed-out of the Assembly in 2006, actually started off with a 10-point advantage. Mountjoy’s father, Dick, represented the Los Angeles County portion of this district in the state Legislature for several decades. This kind of name identification in politics is priceless.

But with all that name ID, it turns out that the junior Mountjoy did not have the ability to raise campaign funds like his dad, which created the scenario for his opponent, Assemblyman Bob Huff’s ultimate blow-out victory. A large percentage of Mountjoy’s very limited funds went into slate mail, whereas Huff who raised close to $400,000 and was the recipient of more on top of that through independent expenditures, was in the mailbox over and over.

I spoke with Huff’s campaign consultant Jim Nygren who said Mountjoy’s name ID was so strong in the LA portion of the district that he figures they mailed twice that many times into Los Angeles County as into the other two counties in this split district. Huff was delivered a mandate by GOP voters, winning in a 68 percent to 31 percent blowout.

For the past eight years, Dick Ackerman has represented the 33rd District, which takes up most of the eastern side of Orange County – very conservative territory. Assemblywoman Mimi Walters staked out her interest in this seat very early on. She lined up the lion’s share of the Orange County political community, including the endorsement of Ackerman himself, even though her south Orange County/North San Diego County Assembly seat overlapped only a small part of the Ackerman seat.

Walters, a champion of property rights, raised a huge warchest of funds and looked to be a lock on the seat, when enigmatic Anaheim Councilman Harry Sidhu jumped into the race. Sidhu, a wealthy man in his own right, jumped out of the gate early with a slew of extremely negative attack mailers against Walters. Sidhu actually tried to paint the Walters as a liberal – which backfired in a big way. Infamously, when Walters responded in kind, Sidhu held a press conference to decry negative campaigning – such moxie! Old fashioned hard campaigning by Walters guided by her consultant Dave Gilliard resulted in the rout of Sidhu and a stunning win for Walters – 73 percent to 26 percent.

Riverside County is wide and narrow, and the 37th State Senate District literally stretches from Corona all of the way to the state’s eastern border. For two years now, the “perfect storm” of primaries was building up here where the termed-out incumbent, Jim Battin, had endorsed former Assemblyman Russ Bogh, who used to represent a portion of the west end of this district, to succeed him. Bogh, who served as Chairman of the Assembly GOP Caucus, was looked to as a savvy political operative who cut his teeth working for former Gov. Pete Wilson. Bogh raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and ended up getting a lot of support through Independent Expenditures. But there are some things that you just cannot buy, and in this case, Assemblyman John Benoit had a few of them going for him (besides matching Bogh in the “resources” department).

The first is geography. Benoit hails from the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs area) which has steadily grown in population and tends to vote for their local candidates. Second is incumbency. Bogh’s been out of office for a couple of years, but Benoit is in the Assembly, and really used that to work up a lot of local support. Finally, Bogh was the first one out of the barrel going negative – hitting Benoit hard, and that apparently doesn’t sit well with GOP voters. Benoit thumped Bogh 56 percent to 32 percent.
The last retiring senator, Tom McClintock, has represented the 19th Senate District for many, many years. Once solidly Republican, this seat is in danger of turning blue, and will be “ground zero” this fall. Republicans have put forth conservative Ventura County icon Tony Strickland as their nominee against Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson. Let’s get ready to rumble!


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