Costa Mesa Consultant Has Won, Lost Some Big Ones : Guiding Clint to Victory ‘Was So Much Fun’
Apr 10, 1986, Jeffery A. Perlman — Los Angeles Times
Eileen Padberg was sitting in her Costa Mesa office last December when the phone rang and a voice said, “Eileen, this is Clint Eastwood.”
“My immediate response was to tell him, ‘Hey, there’s something I’ve got to get off my chest before you go any further: Go ahead and make my day,’ ” Padberg recalled.
Eastwood hired Padberg to manage his campaign for mayor of Carmel, a race which he won handily Tuesday amid all the hoopla and hype of an old-fashioned Hollywood movie premiere.
After flying back from Carmel Wednesday afternoon, Padberg reflected on the four-month mayoral race and decided it was the “highlight” of her career “because it was so much fun.”
Padberg, who moved to Orange County from Philadelphia in 1957, began her political career by stuffing envelopes for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Subsequently, she ran a county supervisor’s campaign and worked as a legislative analyst for the Orange County Employees Assn. in the early 1970s.
Padberg’s successes include former Nevada Gov. Robert List’s 1978 campaign, plus the election and reelection victories of Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), Supervisor Thomas F. Riley and Dist. Atty. Cecil Hicks.
She also managed the successful 1982 campaign to defeat a statewide bottle-deposit measure, turned aside a 1984 effort in Santa Barbara County to block a new offshore oil pipeline, defeated a 1980 statewide anti-smoking initiative and in 1984 secured Arizona voters’ adoption of a health care cost-control initiative.
But she has also known defeat.
Padberg and partner Robert Nelson, a former Board of Supervisors aide, ran the unsuccessful campaign two years ago to block San Francisco’s anti-smoking initiative. They also managed the failed 1984 effort on behalf of Proposition A, a 1-cent sales tax for transit projects rejected overwhelmingly by Orange County voters.
The Proposition A defeat was her most disappointing campaign experience, Padberg said, because “I knew that it (the measure) was the right thing. I still do.”
Padberg said she wishes she could have run the Eastwood campaign “for free. . . . Clint was the best candidate I’ve ever worked with. . . . He decided he had hired good talent, and he went with it.”
Padberg said Eastwood paid Costa Mesa-based Nelson-Padberg Communications $18,000 for running his campaign. But with so many political consulting firms out there, why did Eastwood choose Padberg’s company?
According to Padberg, she had an inside track, explaining that she has known Eastwood since they were both active in one of former President Richard M. Nixon’s campaigns. Also, former Nixon speechwriter Ken Khachigian recommended her, Padberg said.
“My base for candidate clients comes mostly from among my friends,” she added.
Padberg, who serves as secretary of the American Assn. of Political Consultants, said Eastwood’s campaign posed special problems.
First, a preelection survey showed that Carmel voters were hostile toward any candidate with a “Hollywood image.” The same survey, taken in January, showed that 52% of the 287 respondents favored retaining the incumbent mayor.
Also, the town was so small (fewer than 5,000 residents) that voters could not be contacted about anything without word spreading rapidly, heavily biasing responses to various campaign polls and messages, she explained.
Another problem was that Eastwood’s base of support–mainly merchants angry with tough regulations on tourist businesses imposed by the incumbent City Council–lived outside the city limits and thus could not vote for him.
Eastwood also insisted that he must have a council majority to serve effectively as mayor, which meant that two Eastwood supporters had to be recruited to run for council seats and that Padberg had to handle their campaigns as well. Both won.
Finally, money became a negative issue, she pointed out. No candidate had ever spent more than $900 in a Carmel election, yet Eastwood paid more than $7,000 just for a preelection survey to assess his chances, even before deciding to run.
Padberg said that Eastwood overcame all of this, especially his negative “Hollywood image” as a rough, tough guy of little substance, by attending dozens of teas and coffees at homes throughout the area. This allowed him to personally meet virtually every voter who had been categorized either as a supporter or as “undecided.”
“It was a textbook case of getting back to the basics of campaigning,” Padberg said. “It worked like a charm.”
There was no use of campaign mail, partly to offset the money issue, and partly because Eastwood had no name identification problem among voters, she said. “Our survey showed that there was nobody who had not heard of him.”
Just as important, no out-of-town news media interviews were allowed.
“The people in Carmel felt that the whole world was watching them,” she said.
Padberg also credited Eastwood’s use of an “actor’s trick,” which he suggested himself, for Tuesday’s victory.
“He sat down with me and said he knew he would have to repeat the same message thousands of times, which is what is required in political campaigns. And he said that he didn’t want to hear himself repeat things so often. He was already getting tired of it. So he said to me: ‘I’ll use an old actor’s trick and change the order and the emphasis (of the issues) each time.’ ”
The technique worked, she said. “The voters never tired of listening to him speak.”
Padberg said that she was as surprised as others to learn that Eastwood is not the “rough, tough” person portrayed on the screen and that he isn’t a male chauvinist.
“I’m an ardent feminist,” Padberg said. “Whenever I go to a party or social gathering, I always leave something of that there. I get my points across. With Clint, that was never necessary.”
Padberg said, however, that it hasn’t always been so easy.
She recalled that former Orange County GOP Chairman Tom Rogers once told her: “There’s no place for women in politics.” Padberg added that Nevada politicians were upset when she was hired to manage List’s 1978 gubernatorial effort. “They didn’t trust a woman, especially one from Southern California,” she recalled. “They didn’t take me seriously.”
Seymour, a state senator, said Padberg has continued to influence his legislative behavior long after the votes were counted on election day.
“She made me recognize that I needed to do something about women’s issues,” Seymour said. “As a result, I’ve introduced several measures that deal with things like rape, physical abuse and child care.”
Padberg said the best advice she has ever received came from presidential political consultant Stu Spencer in 1978, when she voiced doubts that she was ready to run a gubernatorial campaign such as List’s in Nevada.
“He said: ‘Geez, Padberg . . . you have nothing to lose,’ ” Padberg recalled. “If you win, you’re a hero; if you lose they’ll say it was an unwinnable contest anyway,” he observed.
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