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Republican Assembly hopeful Andy Pugno kicked off his campaign today with a pledge that could leave him backing his rival over his own candidacy in November.

The Folsom Republican is challenging Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, in the 6th Assembly District. Under the state's new top-two primary rules, voters could send both Republicans to the general election.

But voters in the safe GOP district might be spared a second round of a same-party slug fest if that happens. Pugno said today that he would support whichever Republican gets the most votes in the June 5 primary -- even if he secures the No. 2 spot to advance to the runoff. He said he made the pledge because he believes Republicans "should not be beating up on each other in the general election"

"If I came in behind Beth Gaines, I would honor the expression of Republican voters and endorse her campaign and not actively campaign myself," Pugno said in an interview with The Bee today.

Gaines' consultant dismissed the scenario as unlikely given the presence of a Democratic candidate in the three-way race. But he said his candidate wasn't interested in joining Pugno on the issue.

"She pledges to vote for a Republican in November and it's going to be herself," Gaines consultant Dave Gilliard said.

Pugno filed to run for the office earlier this month, but spoke publicly about his plans to run for the Assembly for the first time today. The 2010 Assembly candidate and author and attorney for Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, told KTKZ (1380 AM) host Eric Hogue that he wants to position himself as a "strong advocate for conservative causes" who would "actually be there out on the frontlines engaging and fighting for us."

He later criticized Gaines as"very passive and totally inaccessible to her constituents" in an interview with The Bee.

Gilliard rejected Pugno's characterization, noting that Gaines has hosted recent town hall meetings in the newly drawn district.

"She's been very accessible," he said "I think it's a non-issue."


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