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Hats in the Corral

February 27, 1986

The Stetsons have been tossed into the corral, and the long showdown to High Noon is under way. That is to say, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles have announced their candidacies for governor. Thus is set the rematch of 1982, when Deukmejian won by a whisker.

If this were a western, it would be like casting Gary Cooper in co-equal leading roles. The dialogue would consist of "Yup." "Nope." Or "Maybe." Some will say, "Wake us when it's over."

The Duke's announcement speech on Feb. 18 was laden with more trick English than was really necessary. Sample: "We can continue with a California that's robust, or we can go back to a California that went bust." Bradley's round of speeches on Tuesday was not a whole lot better. He pledged to represent all Californians and not be a chief executive who is "a caretaker for the rich and privileged." Hardly an original charge by a Democrat challenging a Republican incumbent.

There is no escaping it: This will seem like one of the longest gubernatorial campaigns in modern California history--not counting 1946, whenEarl Warren ran against himself. This is not just because neither Deukmejian nor Bradley is a rousing orator. Neither man has a serious primary-election opponent, so it is one-on-one until November.

But it is not a strict rerun of 1982. Deukmejian will brag that he has spent three years saving California from fiscal disaster. He will run on a major achievement: restoring the standing of California's higher-education system and pumping new money into public schools. He now has a record to run on, and one for Bradley to shoot at.

The mayor has hosted a hugely successful Olympics, overwhelmingly won reelection to a fourth term and developed an aggressive new campaign style. The Mayor and The Duke already have traded shots on the environment--a relevant and important area of discussion.

The 1986 campaign need not be remembered as "Boredom at the OK Corral." There are important issues facing California and its people as the 21st Century approaches. Prospective voters are willing to listen to serious discussions from the candidates on how they propose to lead the state. Deukmejian may have the incumbent's edge now, but opinion polls demonstrate that Bradley has enough solid support to make it a serious contest.

Once asked his advice on acting, the real Duke, John Wayne, responded: "Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much." We'll be content if the candidates talk low and talk slow. But they ought to have something to say.

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