No surprise, then, that Harman and Eastman are relying on voter disinterest to keep the middle-of-the-roaders home on primary day.
Harman's campaign has somewhat humorously described Cooley as being "further to the left than the 9th Circuit of Appeals" — a wild slam that only a deeply conservative voter would probably buy into. A Harman press release states, "Cooley and his policies enable these career criminals to commit additional heinous crimes and create more innocent victims."
"Harman has been really working it," says Bill Carrick, a longtime political consultant who's working on Delgadillo's low-key attorney-general campaign in the Democratic primary. "He's been very active in Orange County politics, and he's very conservative."
But Carrick says Eastman, a regular TV and radio pundit who won endorsements from popular conservative radio talk-show hosts Laura Ingraham and Dennis Prager, is the true darling of conservative Republicans. "Eastman is very much a purist on legal issues," says Carrick, "and he may seem like a good match for people" in the primary.
Eastman says Cooley's three-strikes position is like "refusing to use the tax code to put Al Capone away for a very long time, or refusing to put San Diego murderer-rapist John Gardner away for a 25-to-life sentence if he had been caught committing a nonviolent third offense after his first two, violent felonies."
Carrick sees Cooley as having tried to stay away from Harman and Eastman's courting of conservative Republicans, hoping the two men will split that vote, allowing Cooley to win the rest of the Republicans.
In the meantime, Spillane, the consultant for Cooley, says Harman and Eastman are "outright lying" about his boss's three-strikes record. "It's one of the dirtiest campaigns we've seen in a Republican primary," complains Spillane. Schnur says that's not necessarily the case, but agrees it has been "very hard-hitting."
Sragow suggests that Republican voters may decide Harman and Eastman are full of hot air, and end up siding with the longtime D.A. Of the three-strikes attacks on Cooley, he says, "The voters may just say to themselves, 'He's the D.A., he knows what he's doing.'"
That familiarity might be Cooley's real strength next week. As Schnur notes, "A lot of voters go to the polls and choose the candidate they know of."
And working for 10 years in the second-largest media market in the nation, Steve Cooley — both by his face and by his name — is widely known. Even so, the political pros are unwilling to predict whether he or one of his rivals will win the GOP nomination on Tuesday.