One on one

One on one

Warner set to take on Dreier now that Hilsman has quit 26th Congressional District race

By Lionel Rolfe 02/07/2008

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Pasadena screenwriter Hoyt Hilsman knew his efforts to unseat 28-year incumbent Republican Congressman David Dreier would be an unwinnable uphill battle, so he decided to pull out of the running as one of two Democrats vying for the 26th Congressional District seat.

That now leaves Russ Warner, a Rancho Cucamonga businessman, to run as the lone Democrat against Dreier come the November General Election, although a yet-unknown contender could emerge before the close of the filing period on March 7.

“It’s a lot harder to run than a lot of people think,” said Warner. “[Hilsman] would have been a great candidate, but you have to be on the phone asking people to invest in you and saying that you are going to do the right thing for them.”

Warner says he has already raised close to $400,000. Like Hilsman, who put $100,000 of his money into the campaign, Warner believes he will eventually have to raise more than $1 million to defeat Dreier.

“David Dreier has always won because he spent about $28 a vote and his Democratic challenger only spent between three and five cents a vote,” Warner said. “I need to raise enough to do between 12 and 15 general mailers, and they cost about $40,000 each.”

The 26th Congressional District was gerrymandered specifically

to protect Dreier and is now 55 percent Republican to 45 percent Democrat among those who state a political preference.

The sprawling district includes La Crescenta, Montrose, La Cañada Flintridge, portions of Altadena and Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Bradbury, Covina, Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Claremont. It extends even further east into San Bernardino County and includes Upland, Montclair and Wrightwood.

Dreier did not return several calls for comment on this story.

“I do not want to engage in what will certainly be a long and expensive primary contest if the end result is to divide our party and reelect David Dreier,” said Hilsman. “My supporters and Warner’s supporters would be going at it and as a result it would divide the party.”

Although he’s out of the race, the 57-year-old Hilsman said he would continue working to defeat Republicans. He is also supporting Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president.

Warner has already gained the support of Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena. He describes himself as “an old-fashioned Kennedy Democrat” who was a Republican until recently.

“We need to protect people’s liberties, their civil rights and we need to promote education and health care and make sure that government doesn’t hurt people but helps them,” said Warner.

What makes Dreier really vulnerable, at least in Hilsman’s estimation, is the war in Iraq. Hilsman believes that in a short time Dreier will come to be identified with a compliant Congress that gave no resistance to an out-of-control president.

“The disastrous decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was the spark that brought me back into a more active political life,” he said.

“The war in Iraq has galvanized people like me. … I may be naive, but I was shocked that it did happen. I think that many people could not believe the arrogance; that [President Bush] really has trampled on a lot of the constitutional guarantees.”

Bill Hacket is a Democratic political consultant and attorney in Pasadena who in 2004 was the campaign consultant for Carol Liu in her successful run for the Assembly, as well as a consultant for her Democratic replacement, Anthony Portantino, for whom he now works as a field representative.

He thought that a Hilsman candidacy might have a chance, but added: “The reality for any Democratic challenger is you’ve got an incumbent in what is still a Republican district going up against this guy who has at least $2 million. But the whole landscape has changed over the past two or three years. People have become disenchanted with entrenched politicians,” Hacket said, “and Dreier is the perfect example of that.”

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