Conservatives hope to take control in Orange County’s AD 67

The Republican candidates vying for the 67th Assembly District in northern
Orange County appear unpredictable, negative and–above all–conservative. But
the winner might not be.

Political pros say the conservative vote could be split in the three-way
contest that pits O.C. Supervisor Jim Silva, Cypress City Councilman Mike
McGill and yoga-studio owner Dianne Harman, who is the wife of termed-out
incumbent Tom Harman. The 67th district is a conservative bastion, running
north from Huntington Beach to Seal Beach and west to Cypress, La Palma,
Westminster and parts of Anaheim and Garden Grove.

Despite the district’s conservatism, its elections frequently have produced
moderate and sometimes even liberal outcomes. In 2004, nine Republicans and
two Democrats ran for three Huntington Beach City Council seats. But the
Republican vote was split, and only one Republican won.

Huntington Beach, the largest city in the district, is the home to the
largest Republican women’s club in the country, and the community even has
its own anti-illegal-immigration movement. Registered Republicans have
outnumbered Democrats in the city for the past 50 years.

“The only thing that we could be considered moderate on is the environment,”
said Cathy Green, a Huntington Beach city councilwoman and the former
president of the city’s Republican Women’s Federated.

Open primaries allowed Democrats to help elect moderate Assemblyman Harman
in the 2000 Republican primary. Last month in a special election, Democratic
voters were essential in Harman’s successful bid for state Senate. He won by
236 votes.

Conservatives hoped that closed-primary rules would prevent a moderate from
winning. But bitter fighting between Silva and McGill threatens to split the
conservative vote.

“My concern is that the battle between these two is so brutal that [Dianne]
Harman will sneak by,” said John Fugatt, the president of the California
Republican Assembly in Huntington Beach.

Campaign mail distributed with absentee ballots earlier this month elevated
the conflict. McGill’s campaign accused Silva of supporting cop killers and
undocumented workers, placating labor unions, and spending recklessly.
Silva’s image as labor-friendly has stuck with him and cost him some
conservative credentials.

But Silva may get a boost from anti-illegal-immigration activists. Illegal
immigration will be a key factor in the race. The California Coalition for
Immigration Reform is based in Huntington Beach. Its leader, Barbara Coe,
has endorsed Silva and has canvassed the district for him.

The Minutemen have become frequent guests at Republican clubs throughout the
district, attracting record crowds and donations. McGill recently visited
the border and his campaign mail features a photo with Minuteman Project
Founder Jim Gilchrist. The Minuteman Project has not officially endorsed a
candidate, but Gilchrist’s tacit support for McGill will carry weight in the

All three candidates have competed to have the tougher
anti-illegal-immigration stance.

In a flyer, Silva rejected amnesty and called for “empowering local police
to enforce immigration laws.” And Harman said that she opposes “automatic
citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants.”

A Silva attack ad has raised the prominence of eminent domain in the race.

McGill voted four years ago on the Cypress City Council to take vacant
property from a church to turn it into a Costco. McGill’s vote for eminent
domain temporarily undermined some of his support from the district’s
conservative base, insiders say.

But he has maintained the support of pro-business groups, including the
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Club for Growth.

While Harman’s lack of a voting record has allowed her to escape much of the
negative campaigning between Silva and McGill, it has also meant that her
husband’s moderate reputation matters more.

“She’s a mainstream conservative Republican. She is the real conservative,”
said Jennifer Jacobs, a campaign consultant for Harman.

But many observers of the campaign said that Harman’s campaign has failed to
convince conservative voters. According to Fugatt, Harman did not return
surveys from the California Republican Assembly, the Christian Coalition and
the Right to Life.

Leaders of Republican groups throughout the district said that it was common
for Harman to send a representative to represent her at debates and forums.
“Harman hasn’t done enough to take advantage of the damage that McGill has
tried to do,” said Dave Gilliard, Silva’s campaign consultant.

Both Harman and Silva are from Huntington Beach. Gilliard expects that the
city’s voters will split evenly between the two candidates.

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