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Double take: Rohrabacher endorses 2 men in same Newport race

Hill, Reno both get the congressman's nod.

September 24, 2010|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

"The Gipper's" reputation, apparently, wasn't good enough.

At least not to convince Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) that he should exclusively endorse a fellow Ronald Reagan devotee in this fall's Newport Beach City Council election.

In April, Rohrabacher first endorsed candidate Rush Hill, who served in Reagan's California gubernatorial administration. Then, earlier this month, Rohrabacher backed Ed Reno, the other District 3 contender and Hill's opponet.

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The congressman has no plans to withdraw his dual endorsements for the same seat. He's backing both men.

The national connection is important for Reno, a lobbyist, who says his political connections would help the city restrict flights at John Wayne Airport and persuade the federal government to relax eelgrass plant protections, a nuisance for bayfront property owners.

Hill is instead leaning on his local connections and long-time experience with civic affairs. Rohrabacher is his only national or statewide endorsement; Reno has nine.

They both claim decades-old relationships with Rohrabacher. Reno says he has known him since Gov. Pete Wilson's administration in the 1990s, and Hill says he has known him since Reagan's first presidential campaign, when Rohrabacher was a speech writer.

"We both learned our lessons at the feet of Ronald Reagan," says the congressman's endorsement on Hill's website. "We need that kind of thinking and integrity in our elected leaders."

Rohrabacher says he decided to later endorse Reno because he learned Hill would be taking donations from unions, such as police and firefighter associations.

"Rush was part of team that saved America," he said, "but that does not make up for him taking money from public employee unions."

Hill, meanwhile agrees it's all about money – Big Pharma money. He said that when he asked Rohrabacher for his endorsement, the congressman didn't recognize Reno's name, and that his handlers remembered it because of Allergan, the pharmaceutical giant and maker of Botox that employs Reno.

"That's a gross and disgusting lie," said Reno. "I've known Dana for a long time. That's just bunk."

Since 1997, Allergan has given $14,000 to Rohrabacher, federal campaign records show.

Rohrabacher says he did a "double take" when Hill first mentioned that Reno was his opponent, but knew that he worked for Allergan when he decided to endorse Hill.

"I know him, but he's not as old a hand as Rush is," Rohrabacher said.

A Costa Mesa resident, Rohrabacher said he also tripped up on Hill's support for the "behemoth" Civic Center that the city is building. He said that Hill wasn't as "equally conservative and responsible."

For his part, Hill didn't sound too concerned. He says that Reno is looking to move up to higher office, and that he's not so concerned with such connections.

"My endorsements are from Newport Beach. Ed Reno is running for a state or congressional office," Hill said, "and his endorsements reflect that."

In the end, Rohrabacher said that he wasn't going rescind his endorsements because of Reagan.

"I wasn't going to take it away from Rush because I have a debt of gratitude," he said.

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