POLITICS

By Shane Goldmacher
Updated: January 26, 2012 | 5:34 p.m.
January 25, 2012 | 9:30 p.m.

A sleepy race for a California Legislature seat is turning into a fractious family feud that pits a former top staffer to Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, against the congressman’s wife.

“Actually,” said Scott Wilk, McKeon’s district director from 2001 to 2006, “she’s running against me.” He insisted he was in the contest first.

So it has been in the bitter early going of a Republican primary still five months away but already splintering longtime allies of McKeon, who has served in the House since 1993. The fight has now devolved into the personal.

Wilk said the congressman didn’t call to inform him that Patricia McKeon would challenge him for the California Assembly seat. Instead, the lawmaker dispatched an aide to Wilk’s home at 9 p.m. to break the news, Wilk said. This, after Wilk’s family had donated $6,000 to McKeon’s campaign committee over the last five years.

“I started laughing because honestly that’s a scenario that never crossed my mind,” Wilk said. “Her political acumen stops at seating charts.”

Wilk, 52, is a longtime political staffer who serves on his local community college board, has been chief of staff to two state legislators, and made an aborted run for the Assembly in the mid-1990s. Patricia McKeon, 69, has been a “full-time mother” (of six), president of a local PTA, and a community volunteer, according to a letter she sent to supporters. She’s been married to Buck McKeon for 49 years.

Rep. McKeon has already thrown his considerable weight behind his wife’s run. He hosted a fundraiser for her last fall in Washington, blocks from the Capitol.

“His main role has been that of a supportive husband,” said Alissa McCurley, the congressman’s spokeswoman. Patricia McKeon and her campaign declined to comment for this story. Wilk said they are running a purposefully stealthy campaign.

“The congressman has told people in the district that he plans to lock her in the room, raise all of her money, and win it on her name ID,” Wilk said.

Neither Wilk nor McKeon has filed a fundraising report yet, though McKeon has seeded her campaign with $40,000 of her own money, state records show.

The stature of McKeon’s husband is already a factor in the race. One of Wilk’s early backers reneged out of fear of offending the congressman. State Sen. Tony Strickland said he withdrew his endorsement after launching his own bid for Congress to replace retiring Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.

“A lot of folks in the delegation feel uncomfortable going all-out to help me when I’m going against Buck’s wife,” Strickland said.

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