Joe Fein compares the San Fernando Valley to Anzio. "We have to establish a beachhead," said Fein, a local Republican activist who believes the California GOP can recover lost terrain in this year's mid-term election.
Driving through Burbank after attending a Tea Party event Saturday in Altadena, Fein made references to Sun Tzu's The Art of War as he discussed GOP prospects for defeating Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff in California's 29th District.
"The Valley is a lot softer than the West Side," said Fein, referring to the traditionally liberal 30th District, home of Rep. Henry Waxman. TV writer Ari David , businessman David Benning and financial executive Robert Flutie are seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Waxman, whose sponsorship of energy-tax legislation has made him a major target of conservative ire.
Yet Fein is not the only L.A.-area Republican who sees Schiff as perhaps even more vulnerable than Waxman in what many forecasters see as a major mid-term backlash against Democrats.
"The tide may be turning," says Gary Aminoff, first vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party.
Long a GOP suburban stronghold, the San Fernando Valley was represented for two terms by Republican Jim Rogan until he was defeated in 2000 by Schiff. That campaign was reported at the time to be the most expensive House race in history, with Rogan finding himself in the crosshairs of groups like MoveOn.org because of his support for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
A decade later, Republican hopes for recapturing the 29th District now rest on the shoulders of John Colbert -- and impressively broad shoulders they are. An Army veteran, Colbert spent 14 years as an investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which led to his next career, helping develop computer forensic software to detect cyber-crimes including child pornography.
Now retired after serving as CEO of Guidance Software, Colbert was recruited as a candidate in the 29th District after another GOP hopeful, Mort Large, was transferred out of state by his employer. After Large's withdrawal, Colbert was encouraged to enter the congressional campaign by his wife and by Jonathan Wilson of the Pasadena Patriots, a Tea Party organization.
"If it was politics as usual right now, Adam Schiff would be untouchable," Colbert said in a brief interview after Saturday's event. Schiff is vulnerable because of his unstinting support of the Democratic leadership's policy agenda.
"They've divided our nation.… It's tearing our country apart," Colbert said, expressing a sentiment widely shared by dozens of Tea Party activists who crowded into a private home in Altadena for the weekend meeting.
California is the scene of one of the most spectacular failures of liberal environmental policy, the cutoff of irrigation to farmers into the Central Valley. Instituted by federal mandate to save a tiny endangered fish, the delta smelt, this policy has created a new "Dust Bowl" estimated to have cost $703 million in lost farm revenue and 21,000 jobs in California, already hard hit by unemployment and with a projected $21 billion state budget shortfall.
"It's just obscene," Colbert told the Altadena group Saturday, recounting his recent tour through the once-prosperous farming region. "It's congressional terrorism."
Colbert's campaign will be one test this year of the political strength of the Tea Party movement, and may also test the ability of Republicans to win votes in demographically diverse districts. Census figures show the 29th District is now less than 40 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic and 24 percent Asian.
"There's been a gradual influx of Asians over the years," Aminoff explains, noting that the newcomers have previously leaned heavily toward Democrats. In 2008, the GOP ran a Korean-American candidate, Charles Hahn, in the 29th District. Hahn got only 27 percent of the vote against Schiff, but that was a year when the popularity of Obama (who got 61 percent of the vote in California) created long coattails for down-ticket Democrats.
This year's mid-term environment is shaping up much differently, and California Republicans like Aminoff now see hope for a GOP revival. "If there was ever a time," he says, "I think 2010 may be that time."
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