A STIFF UPPER LIP
Perhaps no one was put in a more difficult spot as a result of the intraparty battle between conservative Republicans in the 37th Assembly District than Thousand Oaks Sen. Tom McClintock. Running against each other were Mike Robinson, a young man whose introduction to politics had come through doing volunteer work for McClintock and who had become a loyal employee and political disciple of the senator; and Audra Strickland, wife of former McClintock aide Tony Strickland, who had gone on to win election to Assembly and become McClintock's ideological soulmate in the Legislature. During last fall's recall election, Strickland was one of just a handful of GOP elected officials who resisted the pressure to fall in line behind Arnold Schwarzenegger and instead remained loyal to the end to McClintock and his quest to become governor.
McClintock's response to the situation was to lend his name to both candidates — and both used his name prominently as they sought to lend credibility to their campaigns. Robinson mentioned McClintock at every opportunity, and featured pictures of him with his boss on his Web site and in numerous campaign mailers. Strickland volunteers say that mentioning McClintock's endorsement was their ace in the hole while walking precincts — his name literally opened doors.
But a source with the Strickland campaign said that from the outset there was an understanding about McClintock's dual endorsement: In an attempt to enforce what Ronald Reagan famously called "the 11th Commandment" — thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican — McClintock said that he would withdraw his endorsement from whichever candidate first decided to attack the other.
When Robinson's mail piece attacking Strickland on illegal immigration, based on three votes Tony Strickland had cast in the Assembly, hit mailboxes, the Strickland camp immediately asked McClintock to carry out his threat to enforce party discipline. McClintock demurred, the source said, and in fact Robinson stepped up his efforts to associate himself with McClintock during the campaign's closing days.
In the end, Strickland prevailed, although the attacks by Robinson clearly blunted her momentum and nearly cost her the election. The third candidate in the race, Deputy District Jeff Gorell, actually beat her on election day; she won because of a big advantage in absentee ballots — a large percentage of which had already been cast before the Robinson charges began to fly.
Asked late Tuesday whether there may be any hard feelings or fences to mend with McClintock in the wake of his decision to ignore his aide's attacks on her, Audra Strickland gave only a stoic and politic response: "I was proud to have his endorsement."