Did Lou Correa conspire to defeat Lynn Daucher with a dirty tricks campaign? Judge for yourself:

Election 2006: GOP suspects foul play in race

Democrat grabs slim lead as phone-call accusations fly.

By Judy Lin – Bee Capitol Bureau

Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 18, 2006

Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A3

Republican lawyers are investigating potential campaign fraud in the hotly contested 34th state Senate District race after Friday’s ballot count pushed the Democratic candidate ahead by 783 votes.

Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine said he suspects Democrats working on Lou Correa’s campaign may have coordinated with an independent campaign committee to siphon off conservative Republican votes from GOP candidate Lynn Daucher.

Correa flatly denies the allegation, saying, “I had nothing to do with it.”

Ackerman says party attorneys also are investigating who funded last-minute campaign phone calls that attacked Daucher, including one series of calls that inaccurately said she dropped out of the race.

“It’s outrageous,” Ackerman said Friday. “If you’re going to campaign and win or lose on the issues, that’s fine. But this type of conduct is disturbing, trying to defraud voters in an attempt to win the election.”

More than 1,200 absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted, a task expected to be completed before Thanksgiving.

At stake is the size of the Democratic majority in the Senate after an expensive campaign with a tab that could continue to escalate if a recount is requested. If the GOP’s Daucher pulls out the win, Republicans would pick up a seat and trail Democrats 24-16 in the upper house.

Ackerman’s accusations are similar to ones made by Assemblyman Tom Umberg earlier this year when he charged Correa and Democratic Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee, Californians United, during the June primary.

Umberg, D-Santa Ana, had asked the Fair Political Practices Commission to stop the group from distributing negative mailers about him. The commission has yet to issue a finding.

In the Correa-Daucher contest, the same Democratic-oriented independent campaign committee spent $92,000 on behalf of GOP write-in candidate Otto Bade, arguing that he is a better representative of the Republican Party. Bade, a Santa Ana resident, unsuccessfully ran for the state Assembly in 2004. Bade had received 899 votes by the end of the day Friday — more than the margin between Daucher and Correa. Bade could not be reached for comment.

Campaign records show that Californians United receives support from various Democratic-leaning labor and employee political action committees. It spent $74,000 in support of Correa this year. Organization papers for the group list Democratic consultant Paul Kinney as president. Sandi Polka, a consultant for Perata, received payments from the committee. Kinney referred questions to Democratic attorney Lance Olson, who could not be reached for comment.

While it is not illegal for a Democratic-oriented committee to spend on behalf of Republicans, Ackerman believes the committee may have improperly coordinated with the Correa campaign late in the general election.

Independent committees are banned from coordinating with candidates and their campaigns.

At the same time, Republicans are questioning three types of phone bank calls that went out to GOP voters without any disclaimer about who was behind the messages.

“One was a phony pro-gun group saying Lynn was not good on guns,” Ackerman said. “There was a phony pro-life group saying they didn’t like her stance on abortion. And, this was by far the worst, one saying she dropped out of the race.”

Daucher said she’s suspicious, too. Ackerman wouldn’t “make comments lightly,” she said.

The vote count in the 34th District race has been see-sawing since Daucher led Correa by 13 votes at the end of Election Day. Daily tallies had Daucher ahead by as many as several hundred votes until Thursday, when Correa took the lead.

Correa said he’s also been the target of independent expenditures.

“I knew from Day One this was going to be a hotly contested race,” said Correa, a former assemblyman and current Orange County supervisor. “I knew my voting record would be misconstrued and misstated. I knew there was going to be a lot of (independent expenditure) money thrown around.”

The two parties already have poured millions into what has become the Senate’s sole contested contest in the general election. State Democrats are trying to maintain control of the central Orange County seat, which is being vacated by termed-out Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana.

About the writer:

The Bee’s Judy Lin can be reached at (916) 321-1115 or jlin@sacbee.com.

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