GOP hopefuls line up to fight Boxer

Comic Miller, Rep. Dreier mull California senate bid

WASHINGTON — Next year’s California Senate race won’t be total recall madness, but right now it’s shaping up as an aftershock.

Energized by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory, a crowded field of GOP candidates is eyeing a race against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), many capitalizing on the impact the recall has had in changing California’s political landscape.

So far there are three declared GOP candidates in the race: Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey, former U.S. treasurer Rosario Marin and state Assemblyman Tony Strickland. But in the last week, talk in GOP circles has included Schwarzenegger’s new leading man, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who is heading up the governor-elect’s transition team, comedian Dennis Miller and recall initiator Rep. Darryl Issa (R-San Diego).

A spokeswoman for Dreier yesterday said the congressman is not interested in the job and has already filed for re-election for his House seat. But that has not stopped speculation surrounding the telegenic, smooth-talking Republican.

Years ago, Dreier mulled a race against Boxer but decided against challenging her, instead spending his time moving up the GOP leadership ranks in the House. He is now chairman of the powerful Rules committee but will have a difficult time climbing any further on the leadership ladder. He has a war chest of $2 million for his re-election effort and would have no trouble amassing many millions more considering his new high-profile role.

Dreier has a conservative voting record but is also close to the Hollywood community and has consistently helped push the industry’s legislative agenda, such as the tax breaks aimed at curbing runaway production making its way through Congress right now. Earlier this year, he was considered a candidate to succeed Jack Valenti as the Motion Picture Assn. of America chief lobbyist in Washington. At the time, he said he wasn’t interested in that glitzy job either. As head of the transition team, Dreier will spend the next year handing out gubernatorial jobs and earning an enormous amount of political chits along the way.

Dreier could wind up running against another celebrity encouraged to run by Schwarzenegger’s success. Republican sources say Miller is talking to California GOP consultants about a possible run. His potential candidacy is considered very risky and something of a lark. Schwarzenegger’s success could pave the way for another celebrity candidate or create intolerance for Hollywood-inspired campaigns.

“One celebrity in political office could be enough for Californians,” one knowledgeable California Republican noted. “At some point, Californians want to be taken seriously.”

The same sort of political mood about the recall itself could affect Issa. Republicans believe he could provide a formidable challenge to Boxer.

Right now, Marin, a pro-choice Latina, is attracting a lot of attention. GOP sources in D.C. believe the White House is tacitly behind Marin but will be careful not to publicly back a candidate until the primary is over. Others argue the White House has already abandoned her, failing to help her raise money and gain political traction.

If Dreier or Issa fail to make a bid, Strickland, protege of recall veteran Tom McClintock, would make a strong run. (McClintock has taken his name out of the running.)

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