Some relationships wither slowly,others more suddenly. For state Senator John Campbell and Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, the final blowout took an afternoon.
The occasion: an anti-immigrant rally in Ontario sponsored by KFI-AM 640’s The John andKen Show. Campbell was there to announce the creation of a state patrol along the California-Mexico border. Gilchrist, darling of the anti-immigrant movement, was there to lend his support.
Then Gilchrist upstaged Campbell.
Before a roaring live audience and tens of thousands of Southern California listeners, the Aliso Viejo resident said he would seek the 48th Congressional District seat vacated by Christopher Cox—the same seat the Orange County Republican Party had asked Campbell to assume.
“My friends,” Gilchrist announced, “our enemies love to try and portray us as ‘single-issue’ radicals, but they are misinformed and misguided, at best.”
Then Gilchrist tied illegal immigration into virtually every social ill—“the floundering public schools, bankrupt hospitals, an ever-increasing tax burden, traffic gridlock, runaway housing prices and much more.”
Chums no more, Gilchrist went on to run as a candidate for the American Independent Party, consistently pounding Campbell for what he claimed was his spinelessness on illegal immigration.
Nevertheless, when voters went to the polls on Oct. 4, Campbell placed first among Republicans with 46 percent of the vote—not the majority he needed to win the race outright. Gilchrist, who earned 15 percent, will face Campbell and Democrat Steve Young (who closed with a pitiful 9 percent), a Green, and a Libertarian (both with less than 1 percent) in a Dec. 6 runoff.
GOP officials fear that Gilchrist will siphon votes from Campbell, leaving the field to Young. So, motivated by fear and a bit of revenge, they’re waging war on Gilchrist.
The battlefront extends to radio, where pundit Hugh Hewitt on Nov. 3 warned Orange County listeners about casting a “wasted vote” for Gilchrist. In the blogosphere, OC Blog tried to portray him as financially reckless, revealing Oct. 31 that Gilchrist filed for bankruptcy after a series of surgeries in the 1980s.
But Campbell’s pointiest knife has been TheTruthAboutGilchrist.com. The site features an unflattering picture of Gilchrist and attempts to portray the Purple Heart veteran as just left of Stalin. The evidence? His support of same-sex marriages and higher taxes for the rich, and for telling the Weekly that big businesses that exploit immigrant labor are “capitalist pigs” (see my “The Anti-Immigrant Movement’s Trotsky,” Feb. 11).
“Any candidate that takes 15 percent of the vote is going to get the attention of the other candidates in the race,” says Campbell spokesman Jim Terry, explaining the site.
Campbell has so far ignored the Democrat because, Terry notes, Gilchrist has outraised Young almost 2-to-1—$175,802 to $95,754, according to each candidate’s latest Federal Election Commission filings.
Terry says TheTruthAboutGilchrist.com isn’t a smear campaign. “It’s exclusively Gilchrist’s own words,” he says. “I’ve got to believe that in a district with many business owners, comments about ‘capitalist pigs’ are going to impact their opinion on this race.”
But not all Republican activists are pleased with the GOP’s anti-Gilchrist efforts. Allan Bartlett is an Irvine resident and Republican who runs the widely read Powder Blue Report (powderbluereport.blogspot.com). He claims average Republicans “aren’t concerned with whose turn it is to run like the bosses are. We aren’t concerned that Jim is not a polished politician. . . . But there has been a lot of scrambling [by GOP officials] to try to inoculate their candidate [Campbell] from looking weak on illegal immigration—which he is.”
Indeed, Campbell has changed his rhetoric to more closely resemble Gilchrist’s. In 2000, TheOrange County Register reported that Campbell thought illegal immigrants should receive the same benefits as citizens “since the federal government has not controlled the border to prevent the immigrants from coming in.” As an Assembly member, in 2002, Campbell voted to allow illegal immigrants in state universities to pay in-state tuition and approved the use of Mexican government-issued ID cards for official purposes.
Campbell has since renounced such positions, claiming Democrats deceived him into the votes. But Bartlett doesn’t think rank-and-file Republicans are so forgiving. “Deep down inside,” Bartlett says, “the [Republican] party bosses know that the silent majority of their members support Jim and what he has done.”
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.