WEST COVINA—Rep. David Dreier carries influence in both the White House and the California governor’s mansion, has built a second career as a quasi-national GOP spokesman, and his campaign coffers are stuffed full of cash.
So the conventional wisdom was that Dreier would breeze into a 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dreier, co-chair of President Bush’s re-election campaign in California and informal political adviser for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will almost certainly walk away with a win Nov. 2. Yet, he will have done so only after taking an unexpected detour through a rattlesnake’s den of angry activists.
Opponents of Dreier’s stance on illegal immigration, especially his support for a guest-worker program proposed by the Bush administration, have taken their fight to the radio airwaves and Internet blogs in an effort to bring down the Glendora Republican.
“I imagine it has been a rough autumn,’ said Claremont McKenna politics professor Jack Pitney. “Politics is a blood sport and this autumn he’ll probably win, but with some injuries.’
Pitney said the heavily Republican registration in the 26th Congressional District and the lack of a credible challenger have kept Dreier’s opponents from getting much traction.
The 26th stretches along the foothills from La Crescenta in Los Angeles County to Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County, taking in most of the cities north of the Foothill (210) Freeway that lie in between.
In a recent interview, Dreier deflected the attacks from his opponents, saying he is merely the surrogate punching bag for those who disagree with the policies of Schwarzenegger or Bush.
“The way you get Bush’s attention is to beat Dreier,’ he said. “There are a lot of people who hate the president, a lot of people who hate the governor, and they pick on me. I’m a big boy, I can handle it.’
His Democratic opponent, Cynthia Matthews, has tried to capitalize on this small but vocal rebellion in an attempt to put the squeeze on her better-funded, more experienced rival.
The battle lines were drawn in Burlingame, when a schism erupted at the state GOP convention between hard-core illegal immigration foes and more moderate Republicans.
Many on the right were already incensed the party was not fighting harder to beef up security on the state’s southern border and was not fighting hard enough to defeat a Democratic proposal to give illegal immigrants driver licenses.
Tapping into the mood, KFI radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou launched a “Fire Dreier’ campaign to unseat the congressman. They used their show to berate Dreier for being too soft on illegal immigration from Mexico and organized a protest outside his Glendora field office.
Matthews came out with her own get-tough strategy on illegal immigration, calling for a crackdown on businesses that hire undocumented workers.
“We are literally drowning in a flood of cheap foreign labor. And instead of throwing the hard-working men and women of our district a life preserver or a safety line, Representative Dreier is shoving a hose down our throats,’ she says on her campaign Web site.
Dreier admits the ‘Fire Dreier’ campaign has hurt, saying he has been told by a few longtime supporters that they can no longer vote for him because of his immigration policies. However, he blames a few virulent anti- immigrant foes for distorting his record on legal immigration and free trade to smear him.
He has fought back by sending a slew of political mailers to counter the charges. He also last month introduced a bill that would boost penalties for hiring illegals and place a bar code on Social Security cards that would be scanned by new employers to prove legal residency.
The bill has been criticized by some who believe the new Social Security rules will create a de facto national identification card.
Matthews also has tried to gain ground by portraying Dreier as a “job killer’ for his support of outsourcing as a way to boost trade, and for promoting a visa program that imports high-tech foreign workers into the U.S.
“He is representing his interests and the people who put money into his coffers,’ Matthews said.
Dreier touted his work on getting money for groundwater cleanup in the San Gabriel Valley as well as for the Alameda- Corridor East grade separation project as proof he is responding to district needs.
But Libertarian Randall Weissbuch, who is also vying to unseat Dreier, said this just proves that Republicans are as interested in pork as Democrats.
“It all boils down to the fact that a big government Republican doesn’t seem much different from a big government Democrat,’ Weissbuch said. “Not only are they spending like Democrats, but they want to control your personal behavior.’
As distracting as the campaign season has been for Dreier’s usually well-oiled re-election machine, it has not hindered one of his favorite past-times: collecting campaign money. As of the last reporting period, he had taken in almost $1 million, even as John and Ken tossed their ‘Fire Dreier’ bombs his way.
As of Oct. 13, Dreier had spent $920,000 and had $2.6 million left over.
Matthews has taken in $31,500 and has $8,800 on hand.