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SACRAMENTO � California Republican leaders are circling the wagons around Chuck Poochigian following the entry of a political neophyte into the all-but-sewn-up Republican primary for California attorney general. The Fresno state senator had already won the endorsements of virtually every leading Republican in the state ahead of his 2006 run for top cop, but the challenge from a young Bush administration prosecutor has many of them rushing to reiterate their commitment to the anointed nominee. Pierre-Richard Prosper announced he was entering the race in an open letter to voters released Monday. Prosper, 42, was President Bush’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and was special counsel and policy adviser to the war crimes ambassador during the Clinton administration. But Poochigian has a big head start. He announced his candidacy last year, has more than $2.5 million in cash on hand and has already secured and publicized the endorsement of every elected Republican in the California Legislature, plus the endorsements of former Govs. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian. But the senator’s campaign is not taking the prospect of a primary battle in stride. In just the past two weeks, both former governors and Republican legislative leaders Sen. Dick Ackerman and Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy have issued statements reiterating their support of Poochigian, as have Wilson and Deukmejian. “For someone returning to California from D.C., Poochigian is probably the toughest challenge he could have picked,” said Republican political consultant Dan Schnur of Prosper’s entry into the attorney general’s race. “It’s a puzzle, not just to me as a candidate, but to a lot of other people who follow these campaigns,” Poochigian said of Prosper’s relatively late challenge. Prosper says his candidacy should not be construed as a foray by the Bush administration into the AG’s race. Poochigian and his supporters point to long-term support of both the current president and his father, George H.W. Bush, by Poochigian and his wife, Debbie, who have both worked as volunteer coordinators for Republican presidential campaigns going back to the mid-1980s. “There is no indication this is anything other than one man acting on ambition,” Poochigian said. In his letter to voters, Prosper, the son of Haitian immigrants, stressed his California ties as a Pepperdine University School of Law graduate and former prosecutor for the Los Angeles County district attorney and the L.A. office of the U.S. attorney. Reached on the campaign trail Tuesday, Prosper said his current goal is to meet with potential voters and donors to “make our case and see where that takes us.” He added that he plans to emphasize his prosecutorial experience and focus on “the challenges of California today in law enforcement � gangs, drugs, terrorism and our porous borders.” Elizabeth Blackney, a spokeswoman for Prosper’s campaign, says the candidate has raised no money and secured no endorsements as of yet. Poochigian, who has served in both state legislative houses and has held cabinet posts for Wilson and Deukmejian, practiced business and civil law for 13 years before moving into government service. Poochigian wants to avoid a primary bout, which would drain money needed for a subsequent battle with Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, whom he considers the likely winner of a Democratic primary against Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard “Rocky” Delgadillo. “Clearly Jerry Brown is beatable,” Poochigian said. “But with his name recognition, it’s going to take significant resources to do that, and the question that needs to be asked is, does this entry into the race divert resources away from getting the job done?” Brown finished the first half of the calendar year with $2.3 million, and Delgadillo had raised $1.4 million, according to the most recent documents filed with the Secretary of State. Ackerman said he spoke to Prosper by phone on Monday and essentially advised him to back off from entering the race. “I just told him we [Republican leaders] were supporting Poochigian,” said Ackerman. “There is always limited resources, especially in statewide races. Chuck has been working for at least a year and a half and has been doing a good job at getting endorsements and getting money, and to the extent he has to divert any money in the primary � that’s not going to be helpful.” Ken Khachigian, a veteran Republican strategist who is managing Poochigian’s campaign, said Prosper’s attempt to tie himself to California was “a mockery to the state and an insult.” He described Prosper, who currently lives in Los Angeles, as a “carpetbagger,” noting that Prosper maintained no California residency after he left the state and allowed his State Bar membership to lapse for nine months between 1997 and 1998 and again for three years between 2002 and July of this year. Prosper refuted that characterization. “I came to California 20 years ago,” he said. “I was not born in California, but that does not make one a carpetbagger,” he said. Khachigian said he and other Republicans hope they will be able to persuade Prosper to bow out. “I’m hoping he sees the light and realizes this is not a good way to start out in politics in California,” Khachigian said.

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