Harry vs. Abe

— A group of San Diego Democrats has put together an organization intended to match the local GOP's Lincoln Club in fundraising prowess and ideological pragmatism. According to a blurb on its website, the newly hatched Truman Association of San Diego, headed by president and CEO Adrian Kwiatkowski and chairman Art Castanares, is "dedicated to promoting a practical, progressive agenda focused on education, environment, smart growth, transportation, and civic enhancement issues in San Diego. We strive to provide strategy, advocacy, candidate selection and training worthy of America's Finest City."

Castanares, a political consultant who was once a top aide to ex-state Sen. Steve Peace, says the group's ideology is similar to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, the generally pro-business organization that is currently backing Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in his primary battle against liberal anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. Critics on the left say the DLC is just a bunch of "Republicans Lite" looking after the welfare of big business rather than the rank-and-file. That sounds somewhat similar to the charge leveled by the right against the Lincoln Club, which conservative purists accuse of being a society for wealthy downtown pro-development Republicans who go out of their way to avoid tackling traditional GOP hot-button issues such as abortion, eminent domain, and government subsidies.

Many of the board members of the new Truman club do seem to have more than a bit of mercantile interest in the political process. In addition to Castanares and Kwiatkowski (a lobbyist and political consultant who has recently handled the controversial push for city-council approval of a clean-needle exchange on behalf of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation), other top leaders include Clint Carney, an ex-aide to San Diego city councilman Brian Maienschein, now with the lobbying firm of Southwest Strategies, founded by Republican Al Ziegaus; and ex-Democratic state Assemblyman Howard Wayne.

The group's inaugural event was held last month when ex-president Jimmy Carter and Padres owner John Moores, long a patron of Carter's philanthropic activities and chairman of his foundation, appeared together at UCSD before about 350 invited guests. Ex-senator Peace now works for Moores on various development projects and lobbying efforts. Castanares says a major fundraising event is planned for later in the summer but has not yet been announced. Moores, a University of California regent and onetime nominal Democrat who has frequently expressed his contempt for party liberals and his opposition to affirmative action admission policies at the university, is said to harbor a desire -- backed by an open checkbook -- to elect a raft of pro-business Democrats to state office.

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