By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
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By Charles Lam
By press time, Henley’s attorney had not returned calls seeking comment for this story.
Attention-getting lawsuits are fine and all but don’t guarantee votes. For DeVore, who freely admits he can’t possibly raise enough funds to match Boxer (first quarter fund-raising reports showed DeVore raised only $132,000 to Boxer’s $4.6 million campaign chest), such frankness and low-level efforts, little by little, eventually can translate into a political movement. What turned DeVore on to the possibilities of technology to wage unconventional campaigns was a cable commercial filmed in 2002, when he lost a race for an Irvine City Council seat by about 150 votes. “I wanted to do an intro piece—you know, me, my wife, two daughters and dog introducing ourselves,” he recalls.
The results were a disaster. The DeVores’ dog, Moxie, wouldn’t bark on cue, while one daughter kept preening herself on-camera. After seeing the footage, it occurred to DeVore that the outtakes were much more interesting than the boilerplate offerings he originally intended. The finished product: the bloopers, with DeVore telling viewers, “Support Chuck DeVore: Help him hire professional actors and trained dogs.”
“I went to a town-hall meeting for seniors a couple of days later,” DeVore recounted. “A lady got up, and, in the tone of the ‘Where’s the beef?’ lady, asked, ‘Where’s Moxie?’ Everyone in the room laughed. They had seen the commercial and liked it.”
Two years later, DeVore became a state assemblyman.
“Modern campaigns have degenerated into a two-part process: You raise obscene amounts of money, and then you spend them on very costly consulting, polls and paid advertising,” he says. “You bombard the voters with prepackaged and crafted messages. This is not what our representative democracy was supposed to be. The intent was that the voters could interact with their elected representatives and ask them tough questions in unscripted environments.
“I’m not a self-funded candidate or a celebrity, but I do hold a consistent set of principles that I feel very comfortable articulating,” he adds. “What works for me is that people are attracted to that, even if they don’t agree with everything I believe in. Because it’s the real me, not a focus-group-created phony.”
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Orange County GOP chairman Scott Baugh has known DeVore for better than a decade through their work on the party’s Central Committee; they gave him a 2007 Assemblymember of the Year award. “Given that he holds a position in a minority party, there are always challenges in getting his legislation through, but Chuck’s undaunted by the deck that’s stacked against him and doggedly pursues legislation that he believes makes California better,” Baugh says. “He participates in party activities, is always helpful; he’s always willing to show up and give a speech and carry the flag. When it comes to campaigns, there are a lot of elected officials who don’t show up for the precinct walks; Chuck DeVore, without fail, will show up.
“I’m glad he’s [running for Senate],” Baugh adds. “Chuck is tenacious, and he will beat on the drum and beat the message across. He’s being innovative, and he has good issues that need to be brought to the forefront. He has a good a shot as anyone right now. We will always stand behind Chuck—we don’t get involved in primaries, but certainly we’ll stand with Chuck.”
Despite DeVore’s eternal optimism and Baugh’s support, DeVore’s campaign for Senate must deal with far more obstacles than a state assembly member usually faces. There’s no guarantee DeVore can even secure his own party’s nomination. So far, he’s the only Republican who has established an official committee for the Senate race. But it’s just a matter of time before other candidates emerge—and the polling isn’t favoring DeVore. According to a May Field Poll, DeVore would pull in only 9 percent of the votes in a hypothetical Republican primary featuring two people rumored to be seeking the GOP’s senatorial candidacy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Hewlett-Packard head Carly Fiorina. Even worse, the survey found only 18 percent of California voters surveyed even have an opinion of DeVore—meaning that few people have ever heard of him outside the 70th Assembly District.
DeVore is fully aware of the challenges ahead, even from his own party. (The Lincoln Party, the county’s premier conservative kingmakers, did not return calls for this story.) “It’s common knowledge that the National Republican Committee is actively recruiting big-government Republicans” to run for California’s senatorial primary, he says calmly. “People are going to do what they’re going to do. What I look to is that never in the history of California, with the exception of the actors [Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Murphy], has there been an individual who had no public experience who won statewide office. And any time a multimillionaire has run a self-financed campaign for Senate or governor, never once have they won. My job is going to be to convince people that I am the future of the party.”