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Professor Campbell hits the campaign trail

May 20, 2010 |  8:13 pm

Republican Senate candidate Tom Campbell showed off his policy chops Thursday during a business roundtable at Belkin International in West Los Angeles.

While other politicians might have made a speedy tour of the company’s cubicles to exchange handshakes with as many voters as possible in a tight three-way primary race, Campbell spent more than an hour talking with about 10 employees — breaking the ice with a magic trick in which he made a business card disappear and then pulled it from behind an employee’s ear.

Taking four pages of notes, he quickly slipped into policy wonk mode, soliciting the employees’ views about intellectual property protection, federal health and safety regulations, the effect of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law and the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. vs. China -- all while peppering them with questions about the company’s products, including a new energy-saving power strip.

A request to lower the corporate tax rate — which he said he would favor as long as the government reduced expenditures — steered him to two topics that are the core of his platform: lowering spending and reducing the national debt.

“The key is to lower expenditures -- then you can lower taxes -- and to get it in the right order,” said Campbell, who has been under fire from his opponents, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine, for his record on taxes.  

The former business school dean and Chapman University law professor -- who never mentioned his rivals -- wrapped up the discussion with a pop quiz: If the U.S. government stopped borrowing today, how many years would it take to pay off America’s debt?

“I know the answer because I researched it,” he said. After talking through the guesses, he revealed the "scary" fact: 293 years.

“Are you still on the board of Visa?” one of the employees quipped, referring to Campbell’s past service as a director of the Visa International Service Assn.. “I’m sure they’d like to have that debt.”

-- Maeve Reston in Los Angeles