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Democrats: Cruz Bustamante of Fresno, Tony Miller of Sacramento, Larry Reed of Mira Loma. Republicans: Noel Irwin Hentschel of Los Angeles, Tim Leslie of Sacramento, Ingrid Lundberg of Sacramento, Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia. American Independent: George McCoy of Anza. Green: Sara Amir of West Hollywood. Libertarian: Thomas Tryon of Angels Camp. Peace and Freedom: Jaime Gomez of Los Angeles, Regina Lark of Canoga Park. Reform: James Mangia of West Hollywood.

It's the number-two spot on the statewide ticket, but the lieutenant governor's race typically falls well "below the radar screen" in terms of political prominence and voter awareness. So it's not surprising that a spring Field Poll found the top vote-getter for lieutenant governor was "undecided," garnering 55 percent among likely voters. Conducted in early March, the polling showed voters are not yet familiar enough with the candidates to make firm choices.

And with 15 candidates on the ballot, there'll be plenty of choices. In the Field Poll, the frontrunner with 17 percent was former Democratic Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante of Fresno, who held the top post for 14 months until term limits handed him a retirement notice. With his Central Valley roots, Hispanic heritage and ties to Democratic Party faithful -- both U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have endorsed him -- he's well situated. And Bustamante's got the money. As speaker, he amassed a campaign warchest of roughly $1.5 million, most of which he unabashedly took with him when he decided to run for lieutenant governor.

His chief Democratic rival is Tony Miller, former deputy secretary of state and best known for spearheading the campaign-finance reform measure, Proposition 208, which was passed by voters in 1996 but thrown out by the courts earlier this year. Miller, a passionate believer in reducing candidates' reliance on special-interest donations, calls this campaign "a contest between the message and the money." In a blanket primary, he says his call for campaign-finance reform will appeal to voters across the political spectrum. By voluntarily limiting himself to 208's ceiling on individual donations, however, Miller will be hardpressed to get his message out to voters. His standing in the recent Field Poll was 5 percent.

On the Republican side, money could vault Noel Irwin Hentschel, a little known but well-financed travel agency owner, into the frontrunner Republican ranks. The multimillionaire founder and CEO of AmericanTours International and a mother of seven, Irwin Hentschel is making her first bid for elective office. In a pack of white male politicians, she stands apart both in gender and her non-politician status. Those attributes may bode well for her among cross-over Democrats who are free to jump party in this first-ever blanket primary. Irwin Hentschel has the backing of the old GOP wing, including former First Lady Nancy Reagan and Republican advisor Stu Spencer, and recently was endorsed by the Northern California Lincoln Club.

Vying with her for GOP votes are state Senators Tim Leslie of Tahoe City and Richard Mountjoy of Arcadia. Also running in her first try at elected office is Republican Ingrid Lundberg of Sacramento, who works in her family's rice-growing business.

Leslie appears to have successfully conquered a rare form of bone marrow cancer that kept him out of the Legislature the past several months while convalescing at home. Armed with a doctor's clean bill of health and wearing a wig after intense chemotherapy treatments, Leslie announced in February that he's ready for the campaign trail. He garnered some statewide attention last year for toughening driver's license requirements for teens. Mountjoy, a conservative legislator since 1978, has been a vocal opponent of gun-control bills. He also authored Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration bill on the 1994 ballot. The three main GOP rivals divvied up the Field Poll vote with Mountjoy taking 8 percent, Leslie 6 percent and Irwin Hentschel 3 percent.

-- Article by Claudia Buck

This page first published May 22, 1998

Last updated May 22, 1998

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