In the aftermath of Monday night's news that John Campbell failed to win the endorsement of the local GOP Central Committee, allies of the veteran Orange County Republican congressman immediately launched efforts to find a positive public spin on the disaster.
For example, Scott Baugh, boss of the Republican Party of Orange County, told a reporter that the endorsement loss wasn't a sign of anti-Campbell sentiment, but rather solely representative of activists' hatred for President George W. Bush's frantic 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that handed hundreds of billions in public funds to struggling private corporations.
"It wasn't a vote against Campbell," Baugh told Daily Pilot reporter Joseph Serna. "It was a vote against TARP."
Baugh also told Serna that "Monday's vote does not reflect a divide between tea party Republicans and the traditional conservative base" of the local GOP.
But Allan Bartlett--a longtime Irvine activist, Ron Paul supporter and Republican central committee member who led the fight to block Campbell's endorsement--says Baugh and the congressman are mistaken about the meaning of Monday's "historic, amazing, unprecedented vote."
Bartlett says the vote outcome serves as both an ideological and personal rebuke of the congressman, especially after Baugh--a stickler on party loyalty--told central committee members to back the incumbent.
"Personally, I can't forgive the congressman for voting for TARP," Bartlett told me. "TARP stands for everything Republicans should be against. But Campbell lost the endorsement for other reasons too. Lots of party members believe he's aloof. We see Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Royce all the time at party events. We never see John. Others members say he won't ever return their phone calls. He just blows us off."
A small minority of Republican Party activists voted to block Campbell's endorsement because he supported repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy against openly gay and lesbian soldiers serving in the military.
Campbell, who was first elected to Congress in 2005 in a special election, anticipated that he was in trouble before the endorsement meeting. Knowing Bartlett was close to corralling the number--22--to thwart him, the congressman asked for a private pow-wow.
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"We were polite to each other," said Bartlett. "He wanted me to reconsider my position and vote for him. But that wasn't going to happen. He needs to be more accountable. Hopefully, he's getting that message now. This vote was a huge public humiliation for him."
John Webb, who is challenging Campbell for the party's nomination, may have an uphill battle given that he's only got a couple of thousand dollars in his campaign coffers and the incumbent is personally ultra-wealthy. But several party members thought that the ex-cop and current insurance salesman gave an impressive, passionate speech at the GOP meeting. Bartlett agreed, saying, "Webb was tremendous."
Lou Penrose, the congressman's Newport Beach office chief, did not respond to an interview request.