ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) _ Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer fended off a well-financed challenge Sunday by millionaire magazine publisher Steve Forbes to capture the endorsement of the state's major conservative grassroots group.

Bauer, extolling his opposition to abortion and his ties to Ronald Reagan _ a wildly popular figure among California conservatives _ won the endorsement of California Republican Assembly delegates in balloting among Bauer, Forbes and fellow conservative Alan Keyes.

Keyes, a fiery orator who narrowly missed the group's endorsement four years ago after a fractious campaign against Pat Buchanan left the group without a favorite, was eliminated Sunday in an early round.

Although the CRA meetings are generally avoided by mainstream Republicans, Bauer said the formal endorsement of the 3,500-member CRA was valuable.

``It will be very influential on fund-raising,'' Bauer said following the vote, adding that the CRA's decision was affirmation that ``I am the conservative alternative to George Bush.''

John Courtney, who organized Bauer's effort at the CRA convention, said the CRA could supply campaign volunteers. ``That's worth a couple of million dollars that someone else is going to have to spend,'' he said.

``It makes the conservative grassroots movement a player, and not dictated to by the elitists,'' he said.

The other Republican presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runner, did not attend the convention and did not receive any votes.

Bauer and Keyes addressed the group Saturday; Forbes appeared Friday evening.