Capps' Widow Runs For His Calif. Seat
Tomorrow's special election features Capps' widow, two Republicans
By Judy Woodruff/CNN
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Jan. 12) -- Lois Capps, longtime nurse, teacher and mother of three, never thought of herself as a politician.
Now she's running for Congress as a Democrat, in a special election Tuesday that marks the start of the 1988 political season.
Brooks Firestone, a 61-year-old Republican, is a politician. The California state assemblyman wants to go to Washington, too.
And there's Tom Bordonaro, 38, another Republican, also a California assemblyman.
All three are candidates for the congressional seat left empty last October when Capps' husband, Walter, collapsed and died of a heart attack.
"Picking up and going on, I believe, is my way of dealing with that enormous shock," Lois Capps says.
Capps says she wants to continue her husband's work and says her lifetime of experiences will help. In one campaign ad she says, "As a teacher and mother, I'll make improving our schools a top priority. I'll use my experience as a nurse to fight for health care that protects seniors and the right to choose our own doctor."
Firestone is trying to force Capps into a runoff. A moderate Republican, he was urged to run by some powerful party members: House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former President Gerald Ford.
"I think this is an historic race," Firestone said. "It's the first race of '98 ... It's an indication of what will happen in the future, and I think it's very important that a centrist Republican be elected."
Firestone left the family tire business to start a winery in Santa Barbara County. He benefits from name recognition and is pushing his business background.
In a TV ad, Firestone says, "Four years ago we left the farm to serve you in Sacramento. Together we cut taxes and made government run like a business. History comes again. I want to go to Washington, serve you, get the job done and come home to the vineyard and my family."
But Firestone is too moderate for the other major Republican in the race. Proud of his blue-collar background, Bordonaro is a hard-core conservative, anti-abortion and pro-gun.
Bordonaro says Firestone was recruited because of his wealth. He also attacks national Republicans for coming in so quickly after Capps' death.
"It was awful," he says. "I mean, the vultures came into the district so quickly ... When Speaker Gingrich recruited Mr. Firestone to run, it rubbed me the wrong way. I think that folks 3,000 miles away ought to stay out of our business and let the central coast decide who their next representative will be."
The fight between the conservative Bordonaro and the moderate Firestone mirrors the split in the national Republican party on social issues. Nowhere is that more evident than over the controversial procedure labelled by opponents as partial-birth abortion.
A national anti-abortion group which wants Bordonaro to win is running ads that say, "Tom Bordonaro voted to end this terrible procedure. Brooks Firestone voted to continue it."
The ads have put Firestone, who favors abortion rights, on the defensive. "It [the ad] isn't accurate because I submitted an amendment to ban funding for partial birth abortions," Firestone says.
His amendment would have permitted the procedure under certain exceptions.
It's not only abortion, but issues like guns and term limits that have attracted independent outside groups to this race. And their presence is turning off even the candidates who benefit from them.
"That kind of bothers me because a lot of special-interest groups are single-issue groups," said Bordonaro. "And if this is the wave of the future with soft money and independent expenditures, you know, that scares me ..."
The 22nd congressional district runs from fashionable Santa Barbara, along picturesque seaside communities, through farm country and rolling hillsides. Its voters have had less time than usual to focus on the campaign, which started just before the holidays.
Under California law, all candidates appear on a single ballot, but if no one wins a majority, the top finisher in each party will face each other in a March runoff.
Democrat Capps might go over 50 percent; some weekend polling suggests she has support of 46 to 48 percent of voters. But most election-watchers are betting she will be in a runoff with one of the Republicans.
"With this race, I think you throw all the rules out the window," said political analyst John Culver. "And the race is unusual because of the timing of it, because of the debate in the Republican party over which candidate, and the fact that it's occurring over the holiday period."
Turnout is normally light for special elections, but officials report a heavier-than-usual demand for absentee ballots.