Gallegly Testing the Waters in Recall Election

Posted August 5, 2003 at 2:32pm

Though he has not yet decided whether to officially place his name on the California recall ballot, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) said Tuesday that he had conducted a statewide poll to test his chances and was exploring whether he could use his federal campaign coffers for a statehouse bid.

Gallegly is one of the more than 250 Californians who have taken out papers for the governor’s race, the first step toward getting on the ballot for a scheduled Oct. 7 recall election. The deadline for official entry into the race is Saturday, though there are several different legal proceedings under way that could delay the deadline, the election date or both.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Gallegly said that he had not made a final decision yet and that he — like other potential candidates and political observers nationwide — was still trying to establish the lay of the land.

“No one has ever had a situation in history to compare to the dynamics of what we’re going through right now,” the nine-term House Member said.

Over the weekend, Gallegly commissioned a statewide poll by Arthur Finkelstein & Associates that was designed to test his viability as well as that of several other potential contenders. Finkelstein has done campaign work for Gallegly for several years.

“We were encouraged before the survey. We were elated after the survey,” Gallegly said.

He would not share the full poll results, but Gallegly did provide Finkelstein’s one-page summary of the survey.

“The California Governor’s race is wide open,” Finkelstein wrote. “No candidate completely breaks away from the crowd, even [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein, clearly the strongest Democrat tested, received less than one quarter of the committed vote in a multi-candidate race with 34 percent undecided.”

On the GOP side — where tested candidates included former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rep. Darrell Issa, ex-Rep. Michael Huffington, 2002 gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock — Finkelstein found the situation similarly unsettled.

“Riordan and Schwarzenegger are the only Republicans who repeatedly break into double digits, but neither got close to 20 percent of the committed vote even when not running against each other,” Finkelstein wrote.

“Simon, surprisingly, receives less than 10 percent as a base. The other candidates, including McClintock, Issa and Michael Huffington all received low single digits in a multi-candidate race.”

Finkelstein also tested Arianna Huffington, Michael Huffington’s ex-wife, finding that “if she were to run [she] would receive less than 10 percent of the vote, most of it from the liberal left Democratic wing.”

As for Gallegly, Finkelstein placed the GOP lawmaker in a four-candidate field, providing poll respondents with biographical information about each candidate without providing their names.

In that matchup, according to the memo, “the Elton Gallegly candidate received 25 percent, the Simon candidate received 16.9 percent, the McClintock candidate received 16.3 percent and the Issa candidate received 14.5 percent. This demonstrates that if Gallegly could become known he might very well become the Republican alternative to whomever the Democrats run.”

The 59-year-old Gallegly acknowledged that, if he decides to make the race, the “getting known” element would be his biggest hurdle.

“Name identification certainly we know is a weakness outside of a radius of a couple hundred miles from [my district],” Gallegly said. “That is something that would have to be overcome.”

Boosting his name recognition across the state in a short period of time would be extremely expensive. As of June 30, Gallegly had just more than $1 million in his Congressional campaign account, though it is not yet clear to him whether he could use that money to run for governor.

“There are some hurdles that we are dealing with now with the attorneys,” he said. “The [Federal Election Commission] has not been able to give us some definitive answers.”

Both the Finkelstein memo and Gallegly himself have made clear that the lawmaker’s signature issue in a gubernatorial campaign would likely be illegal immigration, which has also been his primary legislative focus on Capitol Hill.

With a few exceptions — a failed run for the Resources Committee gavel and a recent campaign for a controversial bill banning bear-baiting among them — Gallegly has mostly kept a low profile in Congress.

Before his election to the House in 1986, Gallegly was a real estate broker and mayor of Simi Valley. His current district, the 24th, includes most of Ventura County and rural portions of Santa Barbara county northwest of Los Angeles. The majority-Republican seat is 22 percent Hispanic.