Its Her Party and Shell Sigh if She Wants To

Democrats leave Gerrie Schipske to battle Rohrabacher alone

The phone bleats, and Schipske is rattled back into candidate hyperdrive. Sharon Davis, the wife of the governor, is the featured draw at a fund-raiser at Chimayo's at the Beach restaurant in Huntington Beach on Oct. 6. There's a fund-raising dinner at the West Coast Long Beach Hotel at Queens Way Drive on Oct. 13 and a Halloween fund-raising rally at the Teamsters Hall in Long Beach on Oct. 31.

"We're in the homestretch," Schipske says, and she's smiling again. "We're not overwhelmed. I've been in this position before."

So has Rohrabacher. Word is that his congressional seat is vulnerable this year. He has been switched to the redrawn 46th District, where the new borders exclude some ultraconservative voters in Newport Beach and stretch into Los Angeles County through more diverse neighborhoods—from gay to middle class to labor unionist—areas of Long Beach and Wilmington to the wealth of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

"It's a much more moderate district than Rohrabacher has run in before," Schipske observes.

But Rohrabacher's so-called vulnerability has been the word in every election year for more than a decade. For challenger after challenger—most recently, Patricia Neal, Sally Alexander and Ted Crisell—it has been the last word of their political careers.

The difference this time may be that Schipske is not a short-straw, warm-body, ballot-filling longshot like most of the rest of them. She's a qualified candidate—a political-science professor at Cal State Long Beach with a long history of effective activism in the areas of health care, senior issues, women's rights, environmental concerns—with a green thumb in grassroots campaigning.

In fact, Schipske draws some of her viability from two previous losses (both by less than 1 percent) to other supposedly unassailable Republicans: Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall in 1996 and Congressman Steve Horn in 2000.

"Both times, the expert assessment about me was, 'She doesn't have a chance,' and the expert assessors were wrong," says Schipske. "You don't come that close in races that important and not emerge even more viable and competitive."

Schipske thinks Rohrabacher's refusal to debate is telling—in more ways than one. "It's a sign that he's most concerned," she says. "And it's also his slap in the face of democracy. The arrogance of saying, 'I don't need to debate' or, 'I won't debate' goes against the grain of what our system of government is supposed to be about."

However, Aaron Lewis, a spokeman in Rohrabacher's Washington, D.C., office, insists the congressman has scheduled a debate with Schipske on Oct. 30 at Orange Coast College. "The congressman hasn't ever categorically refused to debate," said Lewis. "But he really doesn't have time for more than one. It would require an open schedule and Congress being out of session. It's just a logistical problem."

In Rohrabacher's absence, there's nobody to stop Schipske once she starts her spiel on him.

"I'm running against a man who favors offshore oil drilling, who opposes mandating increased fuel efficiency in cars, who did not think the Orange County Sanitation District should be forced to treat its sewage to the standards of the Clean Water Act, who was in favor of turning El Toro into an airport, and who now says Long Beach and John Wayne airports must accept more flights," Schipske says. "Rohrabacher offers no plans for improving our systems of education and health care, for creating jobs, for combating the potential of terrorism at the two major ports that are now in the 46th District. He just doesn't seem to be too concerned about much other than going on a lot of foreign trips and posturing as Secretary of State."

Schipske pauses before she delivers her final blow.

"Just like Bob Dornan," she says, "Dana Rohrabacher's façade is starting to crack."

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