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The Crowded GOP Senate Race Tops Tuesday's Ballot : California Elections

June 01, 1986|CATHLEEN DECKER | Times Staff Writer

With political careers and partisan control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, the Republicans' vaunted 11th Commandment--thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican--was dismissed hastily in the scrambling race to pick a challenger to incumbent Democrat Alan Cranston.

From the opening shot--when candidate Ed Davis accused fellow candidate Bobbi Fiedler's campaign of trying to bribe him out of the race--to the last flurried weekend of tag-team political hammering, no candidate in the crowded race escaped the barrage.

Neither did voters, buried in a blizzard of campaign advertisements and commercials costly enough to float another Olympics.

But as the last days approached, there emerged no undisputed front-runner among the following competitors:

Ed Zschau, the Silicon Valley congressman taking his first fling at statewide office, traveled from obscurity in the polls to the front of the tightly wedged pack in a matter of months on the back of a well-financed media campaign that started with something basic: how to pronounce his name. Enough people apparently learned, for his fellow candidates showed their respect by ganging up on the pragmatic candidate as the campaign ended. Zschau, 46, hoped that voters would approve his fiscal conservative-social moderate stance.

Bruce Herschensohn, 53, entered the campaign known only in Southern California, where he rode the airwaves as a KABC-TV political commentator. At campaign's end, he still had little name identification in Northern California, but his ultraconservative, foreign policy-focused campaign in Southern California brought him up in the polls. Unlike many vague candidates, Herschensohn loosed a 23-point battle plan for the Senate, centered on his strident call for the "preservation of the United States."

Mike Antonovich, 46, a conservative Los Angeles County supervisor since 1980, tried to capitalize on his longtime activism in the California GOP and high name identification in Southern California. He also sought to link himself with President Reagan and Gov. George Deukmejian. But late-campaign polls showed that Antonovich, a wooden speaker, had clearly lost ground to the more articulate ultraconservative in the race--Herschensohn.

Ed Davis, the state senator from Valencia, was the first Republican to jump into the race--in February, 1985--and has centered his campaign on his tough-cop image, left over from his nine years as Los Angeles police chief. "Retired police chief," in fact, was his self-selected occupation on the ballot. But polls show that Davis, 69, was hurt by his wrangle with Fiedler, and he has not been able to raise enough money to match the ad campaigns mounted by his rivals.

Bobbi Fiedler, 49, the San Fernando Valley congresswoman, was weaned on tough races against liberals--something she sought to remind voters of in anticipation of a November race against Cranston. But her momentum was all but shattered in January, when a grand jury accused her of trying to bribe Davis out of the race. A judge threw out the indictments as groundless.

Economist Arthur Laffer, the boy-wonder of Reaganomics, learned some lessons in his first foray into the elective fray, specifically about the dangers of being a one-note candidate and, ironically, the financial difficulties a California candidacy can present. Laffer, author of the Laffer Curve, which advocates tax cuts, focused his message almost exclusively on economics--and found that voters wanted to hear instead about foreign policy. Laffer, 45, raised and spent $1 million, leaving him broke in the final stretch.

Robert W. Naylor, a 42-year-old assemblyman from Menlo Park, was hoping to be the only Northern Californian in the race, a strategy which dissolved when Zschau entered and touted a similar fiscal conservative-social moderate image. Naylor bitterly attacked Zschau's voting record and crossed his fingers that longtime Republican activists would come through for him in a surprise sweep on Election Day.

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