Reagan, Regan: This Regan Happy for Any Link

Posted June 21, 2004 at 6:49pm

Don Regan wants you to know: He is not that Don Regan. But he believes he is a distant relation to Ronald Reagan’s former treasury secretary, who died last year.

“Somewhere, we are,” Regan says. “My father is related on that side, but we were never too close to his side of the family. In the long run. Second cousin. Somewhere down there.”

Regan is asked even more often if he is related to the recently deceased 40th president. He isn’t, but he doesn’t mind the question. When you’re a Republican running for Congress in California, any association with Reagan — or even the other Donald Regan — cannot hurt.

[IMGCAP(1)] “To share their reputation at any level, I’m proud to carry forward their name,” he says. “With or without the vowel.”

But the name is mere happy coincidence. Regan is hoping that his message carries him to an upset victory over Rep. Lois Capps (D) in California’s 23rd district.

Regan actually expresses some admiration for the incumbent, who is completing her third full term representing part of the Central Coast.

Capps is a former nurse. Regan, who as an audiologist is a fellow health professional, salutes her for some of her work on health care issues — especially securing funding for stroke research, which he sees as a tribute to her late husband, former Rep. Walter Capps (D-Calif.). Walter Capps died of a heart attack after serving just a year in office.

“I’m happy for her that she’s been able to do that,” he says. “I’m sure it’s very fulfilling for her personally.”

The problem, as Regan sees it, is that Capps doesn’t have much more to show for her six-plus years in Congress.

“She hasn’t done anything but keep the seat warm,” he complains.

The challenge for Regan is getting his message out in a district that the Republican establishment appears to have written off and that the media, as a consequence, are ignoring. Instead of asking a reporter what information he needs, the publicity-starved candidate begins a conversation this way: “How can I help me?”

The Central Coast district wasn’t always so forbidding for Republicans. It was competitive territory from the late 1980s throughout the 1990s, and the GOP held the seat until 1996. Even though the district lines were made considerably safer for Democrats after the last Census, the GOP ran a highly-regarded businesswoman, Beth Rogers, against Capps in 2002 (Rogers, who beat Regan in the primary that year, lost to Capps by 20 points).

“Frankly, we like being the underdog,” Regan says. “Well, let me clarify. I don’t like being the underdog. But I understand it. There’s a perception that the 23rd district is gerrymandered Democratic.”

So far, Regan has persuaded at least one Democrat to switch allegiances — his wife, Carmen. She’s Latina, so Regan is hoping that she has some pull in a district where 42 percent of the residents are of Hispanic origin.

Regan frequently compares his race against Capps to the story of David and Goliath. But he is hoping some of the magic of California’s current political Goliath, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), rubs off on him.

“Schwarzenegger has had the greatest impact [on California Republicans] in years and will continue to resonate the longest,” he says. “Long before Reagan died, he inherited that mantle of celebrity and hope. Reagan’s death has reinforced it.”

But Regan can only begin to dream about possessing Schwarzenegger’s fundraising prowess. Through March 31, Capps had $505,000 in her campaign account; Regan had $200.

“It’s not a candidate problem,” he says of his challenge, “it’s a monetary problem. We’re looking for miracles, truthfully. We’re hoping we can scrounge up enough money from the doubting Thomases.”