Memo From O.C. To D.C.

Gilchrist for Congress
PO Box 295
Lake Forest, CA 92609

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Memo From O.C. To D.C.
Investor's Business Daily

December 7, 2005

Illegal Immigration: When a one-issue activist from a fringe party holds the Republican candidate to under 45% in GOP territory, it's time to take notice.

If you're looking for the Orange County of pop culture and political lore, you'll find it in California's 48th Congressional District. This is the quintessential O.C., from storied beaches to rock-ribbed Republicanism. Outside the college enclave of U.C. Irvine, this is turf where the GOP reigns and its candidates usually win in a walk.

Christopher Cox, now heading the Securities and Exchange Commission, won 65% of the vote when he last ran for the House there in 2004. George W. Bush got 58.3% to John Kerry's 40.4%.

Tuesday's victory by Republican state Sen. John Campbell, in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Cox, needs to be seen in this historical context. The outcome was never in serious doubt, but Campbell's 44.7% share of the vote is not exactly a mandate. A whole lot of people who normally would have voted Republican didn't. The party needs to understand why.

Campbell faced four opponents. Two, from the Green and Libertarian parties, polled too little to make a difference. Another was a Democrat, Steve Young, who managed just 28% no threat there. But then there was Jim Gilchrist.

Running under the banner of the American Independent Party, Gilchrist ended up with 25%. That had nothing to do with the AIP, a minor party that polls 1% on its good days. It had everything to do with Gilchrist's fame as co-founder of the border-watching Minuteman Project.

Hammering away at one issue illegal immigration he raised a remarkable $500,000 without major-party backing. He even seemed to raise Democrats' hopes that he weakened Campbell enough to give their man, Young, a chance. Late in the campaign, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean recorded a phone message urging the party faithful to vote.

Campbell won on the strength of party loyalty, endorsements and his own popularity as a state legislator. But he was forced to defend his record on immigration, and he had to disown a couple of votes he cast in the state Assembly one to allow instate tuition for illegal immigrants at state colleges and another to accept Mexican consular cards as identification.

Republicans in the New York-Washington axis may not see it, but there's a deep divide in their party between elites and grass-roots voters. In places like Southern California, it's impossible to ignore. Voters want to see the law enforced, both at the border and against employers, and they see their elected leaders doing nothing.

When fringe candidates do a better job addressing mainstream concerns than establishment politicians do, the latter can expect trouble. This week they got their warning shot.

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