Some time after he bowed out of the governor's race in January and jumped into the California GOP primary to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer, Tom Campbell turned from a mild-mannered law professor into Rambo. Professor Rambo.
He wrote a piece for www.foxandhoundsdaily.com against "Mirandizing" (reading Miranda rights to) terrorism suspects. He supports the new pumped-up Arizona immigration law. Manmade global warming? Campbell told The Chronicle's editorial board that he goes by what he reads in the Economist. And: "I must say, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) made a hash of it."
Campbell has held a special place in California political lore as the moderate who lost the three-way GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat to the very conservative Bruce Herschensohn in 1992. Had Campbell prevailed, it is likely Boxer would not have won the Senate seat she holds today.
That notion took a beating in 2000, when Campbell ran against Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He failed to raise serious campaign money, and she buried him. He confessed, "My attempt was honorable, hard-working and did not succeed."
When Campbell decided to challenge former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, for the GOP nomination, the big question was whether this effort would take on the flavor of another honorable but doomed crusade.
To my surprise, Campbell has become a moderate on fire. Forget the social issues that lost him votes in 1992, he argues; 2010 is the year of the fiscal hawk. Who better to lead the charge than a former congressman who opposed pork spending when pork spending was popular?
The National Taxpayers Union gave Campbell its top rating on net spending for two of the years he served in the House. When they both served in the House, Boxer scored in the bottom third.
The professor still lives. Asked what he would do to increase U.S. trade, Campbell discussed the need for a proper valuation of China's renminbi and discussed how international treaties have distorted global currency.
Some politico pros argue that Fiorina has a better chance of beating Boxer. Fiorina's telegenic and gutsy. She can put money into the campaign. Jon Fleischman, publisher of Flashreport.org, notes that Fiorina excites the donors whom Campbell leaves cold.
Running against a woman could throw Boxer off her game. And Fiorina has a great story -- a woman who started as a secretary and rose to become CEO of a Fortune top-20 corporation.