Ashton: Republicans find 'conservative' label useful

Jeff Denham won his first state Senate race eight years ago as a right-of-center politician representing a left-leaning district.

The pitch worked well enough for a Democratic leader to reward Republican Denham of Atwater with a committee chairmanship in his first term.

But this is not the season for moderates.

He's one of a number of Republican politicians campaigning under the label "conservative" as he seeks the GOP nomination to represent the 19th Congressional District. Incumbent George Radanovich of Mariposa is not seeking re-election.

Others include:

One of Denham's main GOP opponents, former Rep. Richard Pombo: "Conservative for Congress."

Assembly candidate Kristin Olsen: "True Conservative."

One of her opponents, Janice Keating: "Conservative Republican."

Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, now a candidate for state Senate: "Conservative Republican."

Since when did "Republican" get mixed up with "moderate?"

Maybe under President George W. Bush, that social conservative/ fiscal liberal whose last months in office included the first bank bailout that now enrages taxpayers of all political persuasions.

Or under Gov. Schwarzenegger, who showed he wasn't quite as far right as some in his party hoped when they booted Gray Davis from office.

Carl Fogliani, a Republican consultant who works on San Joaquin Valley races, said the candidates running under the conservative label are distancing themselves from GOP leaders who compromised on their ideals when they were in power.

"The intensity of the conservatism is essentially bringing the party back to its core, which has always been fiscal conservatism as opposed to prescription drug programs, things that philosophically have never meshed with the Republican base," he said.

Besides, he said, GOP candidates don't have much to gain by touting moderation while running in primary elections for safely Republican districts.

"Considering how the districts are drawn, it's a way to prevent anybody from getting around your right flank," he said.

Candidates say words like "conservative" can give you a better sense of who they are.

"The term Republican can have a number of different kinds of connotations because there are a number of different types of Republicans," Olsen said. "I just felt like those two words (true conservative) best describe who I am."

One candidate who isn't adopting the word "conservative" for her campaign material is Teri Murrison, a Tuolumne County supervisor running against Keating, Olsen and three others for the 25th Assembly District.

There's not much daylight between the six candidates on core GOP issues. They all favor lower taxes, free markets and loosening some environmental regulations to spur business in a recession.

Murrison's not concerned that her decision to only use her party affiliation in campaign materials will somehow make her look less conservative than her opponents.

"I didn't stop to think about how it appeared to use the label that is on the ballot," she said. "I am what I am."

SPEAKING OF LABELS ... Tom Campbell, one of three Republicans competing to challenge Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, visited Modesto on Thursday for a fund-raiser at former Mayor Carol Whiteside's home.

He's embracing his reputation as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, arguing that those qualities match up well against the three-term Democrat. He supports abortion rights and favors gay rights, stances that he says take social issues off the table for left-leaning Californians.

That frees him up to hammer Boxer on the economy and spending, he says.

"Everyone's concerned about the economic issues," the former Silicon Valley congressman and state finance director said. "It's almost absurd to focus on anything other than 'Will I have a job, will my children have a job?' "

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.