- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

California state Sen. Tom McClintock’s campaign for governor in next week’s recall election has gained national visibility for the conservative Republican — but may not win him friends among party regulars.

Few dispute Mr. McClintock’s conservative credentials.

“He is an intellectually vigorous and consistent conservative,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Mike Schroeder.

“Tom McClintock is driven by issues, not by party,” said Steve Kinney, a Los Angeles-based Republican pollster who has known Mr. McClintock since 1982.

That’s the problem, say some Republican professionals. They foresee retaliation from the party establishment unless Mr. McClintock puts party over principle by dropping out in favor of actor and fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Revenge could be especially harsh if, by splitting the Republican vote, Mr. McClintock enables Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to defeat Mr. Schwarzenegger in the vote to replace Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

“His political future depends on what happens in this special election,” said Republican strategist Joe Schumate. “If he does not drop out — and I don’t think he will — and if Schwarzenegger loses by a few points, Tom will take the complete blame for it and be accused of consorting with Democrats. It will be bitter.”

Mr. McClintock, 46, has vowed repeatedly to stay in the race all the way to Tuesday’s vote.

If not elected governor, Mr. McClintock will face a state Senate re-election next year. Retaliation for a Schwarzenegger loss could come in the form of a March primary challenge by a more liberal Republican candidate, financed and supported by the party establishment. If Mr. McClintock is renominated for the state Senate, he is likely to face a popular Democrat as his opponent and could ill afford to be undermined by his own party.

But the structure of the state’s Republican Party is weak. No one figure dominates statewide. That is why the “party organization can’t do very much to retaliate, but people who fund the party and support the candidates can,” said Mr. Schumate.

Mr. McClintock’s district, Santa Barbara County, “is a hotbed of moderate Republicans who will turn on another Republican if they think he is too conservative,” said Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum.

“If he does drop out, the party will do everything it can to hold on to that Senate seat — starting with Governor Schwarzenegger endorsing him and making sure a well-financed moderate doesn’t go against him in the primary,” Mr. Hoffenblum said.

Mr. McClintock has tangled with governors, including Republicans, over taxes and spending. Admirers and detractors alike said he shined last week in a five-candidate debate that included Mr. Schwarzenegger, who is leading in the latest poll, and Mr. Bustamante, who is running third behind Mr. McClintock.

Although he says he is a social conservative, the issues Mr. McClintock most fiercely espouses “relate to fiscal matters more than to social matters , and he can be pretty uncompromising on those tax-and-spend issues,” says Mr. Kinney, the Republican pollster.

Mr. McClintock, who was defeated twice for state controller, complained that he didn’t have the financial backing to win. But some Republicans say that his intransigence on policy and principles puts off potential donors, even those on the right.

Both Mr. Kinney and former state Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel said Mr. McClintock should stay in the race.

“I just fear that if he drops out, his core vote of about 10 percent could very easily vote ‘no’ on the recall — enough to kill it according to some polls,” Mr. Kinney said.

“There’s no reason for Tom to drop out. If anything, he will be the conscience of the party,” said Mr. Steel.

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