EUREKA, Calif. — In a contest where most voters still are undecided and the candidates are courting support from the urban population centers, state Sen. William Campbell's campaign for state controller has taken the less-traveled road to small-town California.
Campbell's borrowed jet touched down in Chico, Redding, Santa Rosa, Eureka and Quincy, giving the rural north its first--and probably last--glimpse of a race that is largely being fought over the television airwaves in the major media markets of Southern California.
In fact, with less than three weeks left before the June 3 primary, Campbell was the only one of the three Republicans to stage the kind of barnstorming tour that is the norm in many statewide races.
"Everyone is just too busy raising money now," Campbell said Friday as his jet, owned by an oil company executive, cruised over the rolling hillsides of Sonoma County.
In one respect, Campbell's decision to visit the sparsely populated north reflects his growing sense of confidence in a campaign that he was the last candidate to enter.
He was the first to launch his television commercials in the populous Los Angeles and San Diego areas and thus far seems to have raised more money than his two opponents--Assemblyman Don Sebastiani of Sonoma and former Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Dan Stanford.
Early polls had him in a dead heat with Sebastiani. But this week, the California Poll showed him pulling ahead in voter preference, 26% to Sebastiani's 21%. Stanford also picked up additional support, but his 11% showing leaves him far behind.
Significantly, the poll also indicated that nearly half of the Republican voters were undecided.
In the race for the Democratic nomination, an even larger percentage of voters remained undecided among three candidates--state Sen. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Assemblyman Gray Davis of Los Angeles and Assemblyman Alister McAlister of Fremont.
For Campbell, the Northern California campaign swing also was an attempt to cut into some of the undecided vote in the backyard of his closest rival, Sebastiani, whose Sonoma winery has made him a familiar name.
Sebastiani has yet to begin his television campaign and has generally kept a low profile throughout the race. But his presence was clearly felt as Campbell touched down at the Sonoma County Airport in the heart of the state's wine-growing region.
"Welcome to Sebastiani Country," one radio reporter chided as Campbell stepped from the plane.
At each stop Friday, Campbell met with a smattering of volunteers and spent time with local reporters and newspaper editorial boards, looking for endorsements and publicity in towns where no candidate has purchased television or radio time.
While Campbell seemed to score points with his affable manner and well-thought-out answers to questions, he also was dogged by questions about his association with convicted political corruption figure W. Patrick Moriarty.
Campbell carried a controversial bill on behalf of the former fireworks magnate, a constituent who lives in his Hacienda Heights district. Although investigators are probing Moriarty's relationships to a number of current and former lawmakers, Campbell has never been targeted in the probe.
Stanford, however, has raised the issue on several occasions, and Campbell on Friday was repeatedly asked if he is afraid that it might damage his image with voters.
"Everyone asks about it," Campbell acknowledged. "It's guilt by association, and I don't think people will buy that."