Saturday, October 01, 2005

Border activist a wild card in Calif. election


Border activist a wild card in Calif. election

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When voters in one of California's most conservative congressional districts go to the polls on Tuesday, they will find a wild card on the ballot: The founder of the Minuteman movement, who has become a lightning rod in the furor over America's borders.

While Jim Gilchrist -- leader of a volunteer border patrol group once slammed as "vigilantes" by President George W. Bush -- is considered a long shot to win the special election to fill a seat vacated by Republican Christopher Cox, he has mined a deep vein of voter anger over illegal immigration.

"I have struck the mother lode of patriotism," Gilchrist told Reuters, referring to polls showing 80 percent of Californians were concerned about immigration.

Experts say that if Gilchrist is a one-issue candidate he has picked the right issue in California -- where immigration has long been the third rail of politics. Democrats have long been unwilling to alienate Hispanics and Republicans are seen as determined to appease businesses that depend on cheap immigrant labor.

"Gilchrist has the most emotional issue. A lot of people hate illegal immigration. And on that issue alone he is going to be able to motivate (voters)," said Republican political strategist Allan Hoffenblum. "There's a lot of frustration and nobody is coming up with any answers."

Gilchrist insists he is not a single-issue candidate: He says the latest wave of illegal immigrants has had a ruinous impact on every facet of life in California, overwhelming schools, bankrupting hospitals and threatening national security.


"I'm running for office to do the job that our Congress has deliberately refused to do: Protect our borders, our communities, our families and our pocketbooks," he said. "This is not one issue."

What makes the special election for the 48th District seat intriguing for Gilchrist is that -- with 17 names on an open primary-style ballot -- no candidate is expected to win more than 50 percent of the vote, setting up a runoff that would include the top candidate from each party.

That means that Gilchrist, an American Independent Party candidate, would make it into any runoff, presumably against the favorite, former Republican state Sen. John Campbell, and former Democratic state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer.

Brewer would hope that, in a runoff, Gilchrist and Campbell

would split the Republican vote.

"If its a runoff with Campbell, Gilchrist and Brewer then Gilchrist gets very interesting because he's the most conservative candidate (in a very conservative district)," Hoffenblum said. "But for him to win it would have to be in a runoff and even then it would be a major, major upset."

Gilchrist faces a formidable foe in Campbell, a conservative Republican who, as a wealthy entrepreneur from Newport Beach, is an easy fit in the mostly affluent neighborhoods of the Orange County district that tend to turn out for elections.

Campbell won the endorsement of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and has also taken a strong stance against illegal immigration -- coming out against Bush's controversial "guest worker" program.

"We're on par to win the nomination with flying colors," Campbell campaign manager Jim Terry said. "It remains to be seen what kind of showing Jim Gilchrist is going to make. ... He's talked about one issue and this is a fairly sophisticated district."