On paper he seemed to be a strong candidate to put up against Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston in November: a young man with a photogenic family, articulate positions on the issues and a growing reputation on Capitol Hill.
But Long Beach Rep. Daniel E. Lungren announced Wednesday that he was ending his exploratory effort for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, and his reasons say much about the challenge of running for office in California.
His themes were solid, Lungren insisted--"liberal Alan Cranston is out of step with California; what's needed is a 'thinking conservative' with Washington experience." But, Lungren added, "We have known all along that the big factor would be money, and I guess we underestimated the difficulty we would have in raising it."
The congressman said he had raised about $140,000 for the Republican primary and transferred another $100,000 left over from his 1984 House race. That puts him far behind most of the other candidates seeking the Republican Senate nomination, some of whom have predicted they will need to spend as much as $2 million to win the primary.
Some of those candidates are also better known than Lungren because of their longtime exposure in the Los Angeles media market, and Lungren said that improving his statewide name recognition--a task that is often dependent on money--proved much tougher than he had expected. Lungren thought that he would attract campaign funds because, in less than eight years in the House, he has earned the respect of Republicans and Democrats for his work on immigration laws and for pushing through a massive reform of the U.S. Criminal Code that has been hailed by prosecutors all over the country.
He also drew attention with an eloquent speech that persuaded some House Republicans to support the designation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday.
But, Lungren said Wednesday, other things seemed to count more as he explored a statewide race.
"If I had thought more about this (Senate candidacy) several years ago I would have made more of an effort to stockpile campaign funds to transfer into the race as some of my opponents have done," Lungren said. "That would have given me a good base." Republican Senate candidates Bobbi Fiedler, Ed Zschau and Mike Antonovich are all transferring in substantial sums raised in races for other offices.
"A candidate's credibility goes up with the media when he can show a lot of money," Lungren said, and that in turn raises his visibility around the state.
Lungren said he might have done better if immigration had been the big issue it was two years ago. But he also complained that his work--and that of his House colleagues--goes virtually unnoticed and he cited a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, which concluded that the media are not covering Congress as well today as they did a decade ago.
Lungren said that raising money in the Republican U.S. Senate race "is very hard right now" because the field is so crowded and because of continued speculation about a possible Senate candidacy by Baseball Commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth.
Lungren said that numerous Republican contributors told him they were holding back until they knew whether Ueberroth was going to run. Ueberroth, who gained enormous statewide recognition with his handling of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, has said repeatedly that he does not plan to run for the Senate, but rumors about a possible candidacy persist.
Frustrated by Ueberroth Factor
Clearly frustrated by the Ueberroth factor, Lungren criticized Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which dispenses funds to the party's Senate candidates.
With Republican control of the Senate on the line in 1986--the Democrats need a net gain of four seats to be in the majority--Heinz has talked to Ueberroth several times about the possibility of the California race, according to aides on the campaign committee.
"He just comes from a different background than I do," said Lungren, referring to Heinz, a wealthy heir to the Heinz food fortune. "He sees politics in terms of the well-known name."
Although some political observers think that Cranston's prospects are better today than they were a year ago, Lungren contended Wednesday that the Republicans could still take him if they "make Cranston defend his record over 18 years."
Lungren said the Republicans would make a mistake if they let Cranston force them to defend the "negative side" of President Reagan's record.
"Alan Cranston is a tough politician who has done a good job from his perspective," Lungren said. "It's just that he is totally out of step with California."
Lungren also said, "Because of my Washington experience, I think I could have overcome the argument that 'Cranston has a lot of experience on Capitol Hill, that he is a leader in the Senate, so why should we replace him?' "
Cranston will be 72 in June, but Lungren, who is 39, said he did not think that Cranston's age would be a good issue for the Republican candidate in November.
"You could create a lot of sympathy (for Cranston) in the electorate," Lungren said.