- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Rep. David Dreier, the man leading California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition team, may next be tapped to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer next year, Republican strategists say.

Mr. Dreier’s statewide visibility rose when he took the high-profile role of co-chairman of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s successful campaign to replace Gov. Gray Davis.

Now, Mr. Dreier is on a short list of possible candidates to oust Mrs. Boxer, an unpopular Democrat among Senate Republicans. She was elected to the Senate in 1992 and is up for re-election next year.

Some have said that any Republican who mounts a successful campaign to keep her from a third term would be hailed as a hero in the GOP.

“Schwarzenegger and Dreier are running the Republican Party in California now,” conservative strategist Grover Norquist said.

Before Mr. Schwarzenegger burst on the political scene, Mr. Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, was already was a rising star in Congress. But the 11-term congressman from the San Gabriel Valley was little-known outside his own district.

Fellow Republicans say Mr. Dreier, 51, is now in good position to challenge Mrs. Boxer or to bide his time for further House leadership promotions. Or he could run for governor after Mr. Schwarzenegger leaves office.

“David is very powerful and influential in the House and could run for governor or be in line for the speakership if he sticks around till [Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert leaves — though he probably would have to go up against [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative California Republican.

Consultant Allan Hoffenblum said Mr. Dreier “certainly has increased his influence in state politics — prior to this I don’t think he really had influence. He has always been gun-shy about running statewide.”

But Mr. Hoffenblum added that Mr. Dreier’s war chest is more than $2 million, and “now has a significantly broader power base within the Republican Party.”

As Schwarzenegger co-chairman, Mr. Dreier was chief ambassador to conservative voters wary of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s social liberalism and sometimes contradictory economic views. Mr. Dreier’s lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 93 percent helped him convince many of these leery conservatives that Mr. Schwarzenegger was an acceptable if not ideal alternative to state Sen. Tom McClintock, the only staunchly conservative Republican in the contest.

In gratitude, Mr. Schwarzenegger named Mr. Dreier to run the transition team, which “puts him in a leading role in California,” Mr. Norquist said.

It also means that the Missouri-born Christian Scientist, bachelor and real estate developer will be collecting a lot of chits from fellow Republicans who get good jobs in the Schwarzenegger administration or who get to place people they want in that administration.

Between now and next year’s election, Mr. Dreier has the trust of the most important Republican in the state.

“And no one is going to run for the U.S. Senate without Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval,” said Shawn Steel, former head of the state Republican Party.

Mr. Dreier also has advanced himself in what some of his friends say is a quiet quest to succeed Jack Valenti, 81, when the Democrat retires from the presidency of the Motion Picture Association of America, which he has held since In 1966.

Mr. Rohrabacher said what makes the telegenic Mr. Dreier attractive as a House leader and possible candidate for senator or governor is the same thing that makes him attractive for the top motion-picture job.

“He is likable and a good spokesman who has no rough edges,” he said.

Republicans are of two minds as to whether Mr. Dreier would give up his political career to be motion-picture chief.

“David was [President] Bush’s main political guy out here in the 2000 campaign, along with [state Sen. Jim] Brulte,” said a Republican activist who asked not to be identified. “Now he’s running Schwarzenegger’s transition. Why would he want to leave for the Motion Picture Association? On the other hand, the job pays 10 times the $154,700 salary of federal lawmakers and you do get to go to some great parties.”

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