Villines trails unknown candidate for Insurance Commissioner

FRESNO, California

"My reaction is one of great surprise." Fresno County Republican Party Chairman Don Watnick says he thought Villines would win easily.

The leader in this race is Brian FitzGerald an attorney in the agency Villines wants to run. What's amazing is that while Villines put more than $200,000 into the race, FitzGerald spent less than $5,000. As the leader of the Republican minority in the State Assembly, Mike Villines was one of the "Big Five" in California government. But his decision to side with his Republican Governor, and sign a budget bill that Republican legislators wouldn't approve, cost him that leadership post, and support.

"That hurt him with a lot of people, especially with local people who had always been supporters of Mike," said Watnick.

Villines move, to end the budget stalemate earned him a "Profiles in Courage Award." Presented by Caroline Kennedy. He was featured on Good Morning America where he called for everyone to work together.

"There can't be Republican, Democrat, and Independent anymore. Not in this crisis." He said.

But if his vote for the budget didn't do him in with conservatives, Action News Political Analyst Tony Capozzi believes this award did.

"When you do that and then get an award from the Kennedy family at the Kennedy center broadcast across the country, just before a Republican primary that is the kiss of death." Capozzi said.

Villines opponent, Brian FitzGerald said he never campaigned against Villines voting record or the Kennedy award.

"I have never raised that as an issue for me it was always the Department of Insurance and the position of Insurance Commissioner." FitzGerald told his by phone from his home in Napa.

But it was an issue for two ultra- conservative Los Angeles Radio Talk Show Hosts. John and Ken. They portrayed Villines as a tax raiser his Kennedy award also riled them.

"He can spend the next two years polishing his Profiles in Courage Award, He's out of work. Out of political work." They said on Wednesday's KFI radio broadcast.

The criticism of Villines on the "John and Ken Show" may have cost Villines support in Los Angeles, the area where he lost big.

The final vote count is not in, but as of Wednesday afternoon, FitzGerald was leading by 11,000 votes. But with tens of thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted, Villines was not willing to conced defeat.

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