View Full Version : Underdog in GOP Race Counts on California Conservatism

12-14-2009, 12:40 PM

LA HABRA, Calif. -- In the Republican race to take on Democratic U.S. Sen Barbara Boxer next year, underdog Chuck DeVore lacks the star power of GOP rival Carly Fiorina, but what he does have going for him are impeccable conservative credentials.

Mr. DeVore, a California assemblyman, is a hawk on everything from taxes to spending to abortion rights. He received the top conservative score of 100 last month by a citizens' group called the California Republican Assembly, which rates state legislators.

"If we don't stop the trillion-dollar deficits in their tracks, we'll be enslaving our children to higher taxes," Mr. DeVore told about 30 members of a Republican Women Federated chapter on a recent campaign stop in this Orange County, Calif., city.

Ms. Fiorina, for her part, wasn't ranked by the conservative group, but the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co. is widely regarded as a moderate.

Mr. DeVore's chief selling point as a staunch conservative may sound like a drawback in a heavily Democratic state, but Republicans in California need the right flank, which comprises much of the party's base here. Combined with the populist anger nationwide over the overhaul of health care and other liberal issues, Mr. DeVore's strategy of emphasizing his conservative bent could succeed in the Republican primary in June, said some political analysts.

"In a more normal political landscape, DeVore would have an almost impossible task ahead of him," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a Republican strategist. "But given the grassroots anger that exists now, he's got a chance."

Mr. DeVore has the backing of many conservative state Republicans, including assemblyman Anthony Adams. "I know him to be a man of high integrity, and I don't know Carly very well," Mr. Adams said.

But Ms. Fiorina has secured endorsements from some prominent conservative Republicans nationally, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Officials at the California State Republican Party said they weren't endorsing anyone for the GOP primary.

Mr. DeVore, 47 years old, faces an uphill battle in other areas. While Ms. Fiorina has national renown, Mr. DeVore concedes "the drop off in my name recognition is pretty precipitous outside my district" in Orange County. He has raised $1 million so far, but political analysts said Ms. Fiorina -- who entered the race just last month -- is likely to raise upward of $10 million.

Ms. Fiorina, 55, who received a severance package of $21 million after she was ousted from H-P in 2005, hasn't yet divulged how much she has raised.

Both candidates would face challenges running against Ms. Boxer. A Nov. 17 Rasmussen Reports poll showed Ms. Fiorina trailing Ms. Boxer 46% to 37% in a hypothetical match-up, with Mr. DeVore a percentage point behind Ms. Fiorina. Ms. Boxer has raised $10 million of a planned $20 million campaign war chest.

"Whoever the Republicans nominate, we're getting ready for a tough race," said Rose Kapolczynski, Ms. Boxer's campaign manager.

Ms. Fiorina, who has begun the balancing act of boasting conservative bona fides without moving too far to the right, said she stood the best chance of beating Ms. Boxer. "The primary difference between [Mr. DeVore] and me is I can beat her," she said in an interview with reporters in Washington last month, adding that Ms. Boxer has defeated all the male candidates who opposed her.

Mr. DeVore is focused mainly on the primary next year. He has made numerous campaign stops statewide and has posted attacks on Ms. Fiorina on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, positioning her as to the left of him on several fiscal issues. For example, he said he opposed the 2008 bailout of Wall Street and economic stimulus this year, while Ms. Fiorina supported both moves, at least tacitly. Ms. Fiorina called that claim false.

"The story doesn't fit the facts," Ms. Fiorina said.

Mr. DeVore, in an interview, said of his rival, "I'm glad she's in the race because it gives me a higher profile."

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, Mr. DeVore served as a Pentagon appointee in the Reagan White House, spent 13 years as an aerospace executive and since 2004 has served as a conservative stalwart in the California Assembly.

Earlier this year, he resigned as the state Assembly's GOP whip after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Republican leaders brokered a deal that called for higher taxes to help bridge a massive budget deficit. Voters ended up defeating ballot measures that would have triggered those increases.

Mr. DeVore, whose term in the Assembly expires at the end of 2010 -- he can't run again because of term limits -- announced his candidacy in November 2008. Since then, he has mostly worked the trenches, driving himself to most of his more than 200 campaign events in his 2000 Cadillac STS.

"I look at my day timer and say, 'OK, that's where I'm going,'" Mr. DeVore said as he recently eased his car back onto a Southern California freeway.
—Susan Davis contributed to this article.