10:38 PM PST on Wednesday, December 30, 2009

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

The Sacramento area will be represented, as will Orange County, California’s Central Coast and greater Fresno. The Los Angeles and San Francisco regions will have sizable contingents.

But when voters go to the polls in the spring, their ballots likely will lack any candidates for statewide office who hail from Riverside or San Bernardino counties. And that’s nothing new.

The two-county Inland area has more than 4 million people and no shortage of politicians. But in the past half-century, relatively few candidates from the area have run for U.S. Senate, governor or other state constitutional offices.

Since 1954, the region has produced just one statewide winner: former U.S. Sen. John Tunney, of Riverside, who served from 1970 to 1976.

“It’s a darn shame. We’ve had some people who could easily have been statewide candidates,” said former Inland lawmaker John Longville. He worked for former Rep. George E. Brown Jr. when Brown, before he represented the Inland area in Congress, ran for the U.S. Senate.

Longville and others offer several theories for the dearth of candidates with Inland ties.

Candidates once always needed Los Angeles or San Francisco roots to run statewide. Other regions lacked enough people to give a healthy home-court advantage that candidates could build from.

Even as the Inland area has grown, its political network — the elected, business and community leaders who can help propel a local candidate — pales in comparison to well-oiled operations in places such as Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Board of Equalization member Bill Leonard, a longtime Inland lawmaker, said he noticed the difference at the recent swearing-in of board member Jerome Horton, a former Los Angeles legislator. The venue pulsed with Los Angeles political muscle, he said.

And then, there’s money.

Leonard contends that campaign contribution limits hamper the aspirations of would-be statewide candidates who are not mega-millionaires or have high name identification.

That has deterred possible contenders from the Inland area, such as former Republican lawmakers Jim Brulte, Jim Battin and Rod Pacheco, Leonard said. Pacheco is now Riverside County district attorney.

Aside from the 2010 race for governor and U.S. Senate, currently the domain of the super-rich (Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner and Carly Fiorina) and the super-known (Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer), other statewide races have attracted candidates of more modest means.

The June primary for insurance commissioner, for example, has drawn three middle-class members of the state Assembly — from Sacramento, Los Angeles and Fresno — who are little-known outside the political world.

One of the Inland region’s last statewide contenders offers another reason: The area’s moneyed interests are stingy.

Ray Haynes, a former Riverside County lawmaker who sought the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2000, said his lack of success getting money from his home turf hindered his campaign throughout.

“Orange County has always had a strong donor base where guys see themselves as a team and they tend to support Orange County politicians,” he said. “If you want to run statewide, you have to be able to have folks you can count on to raise $2 million from your base.”

It doesn’t help, Haynes added, that the one part of the Inland area where there is a lot of potential campaign money — the Coachella Valley — doesn’t necessarily view a candidate from Temecula or San Bernardino as a local to rally behind.

“There has never been a well-developed push to promote a statewide candidate from the Inland Empire,” he said.

Past campaigns

Elsewhere, the San Diego region produced former Gov. Pete Wilson, who also served in the U.S. Senate, but has had few statewide candidates since.

Candidates have until March to file for the June primary election. No Inland politicos have expressed an interest in running.

The last candidate from Riverside or San Bernardino counties to run statewide was former Victorville lawmaker Keith Olberg, who came within four percentage points of becoming California’s secretary of state in 2002.

The late Rep. Sonny Bono ran for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1992, finishing third out of seven. His widow, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, gets mentioned occasionally as a potential statewide candidate but has never committed.

Longtime Inland lawmaker Robert Presley said he was heavily courted to run for governor in the 1980s.

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