When Los Altos Rep. Ed Zschau won the Republican U.S. Senate nomination three weeks ago, Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston was concerned that, as a new face on the California political scene, Zschau would be able to draw a very positive self-portrait for Democrats and independents in the months before the November election.
In press conferences and in $600,000 worth of television ads, the Cranston camp is trying to add a few brush strokes of its own to the Zschau portrait by raising doubts about where he stands on issues ranging from toxic waste cleanup to support for Israel to condemnation of South Africa.
And on at least one of these--Israel--Cranston has already put the Republican nominee on the defensive.
"You can't ignore someone who was able to buy adequate name recognition by far outspending his opponents in the primary," Cranston said recently, explaining why he was not content to simply run for reelection as an incumbent with a respectable job approval rating.
Question of Identity
"The question is," Cranston continued, "just who is Mr. Zschau. We will help explain who he is and who he is not."
Cranston charges that it is hard to figure out just what Zschau believes because he has taken different positions on some issues.
Repeating charges hurled at Zschau in the GOP primary, Cranston notes that Zschau voted for the MX missile before finally opposing it and voted against arming the Nicaraguan contras before switching sides after he had announced for the Senate.
The senator also points out that while Zschau has voted for the federal Superfund to clean up toxic dumps, he has opposed proposals that would have made it easier for citizens to bring independent legal actions against polluters.
Cranston spokesman Kam Kuwata said the campaign also hopes to persuade voters that Zschau is more conservative than he says he is and that he is easily manipulated by powerful Republican contributors.
Reference to Packard
"The question is, who's pulling the strings behind Ed Zschau?" Kuwata asked. "Does he just do whatever David Packard says?"
Packard, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard electronics firm in Palo Alto, is a key Zschau adviser.
Zschau dismisses the charge that he is controlled by Packard but did acknowledge in a recent interview that Packard helped him build political bridges to Reagan backers in Southern California.
There was a concern that Zschau could not get fund-raising assistance from the Reagan backers given the congressman's record of voting against Reagan on the MX and the contras.
"Packard in a private conversation with me said it was not a problem with him, but he wanted to know whether, given my voting record, I could get support from people down south," Zschau said. "I showed that I could."
Zschau improved his position with Reaganites by coming out in favor of arming the contras--a very important issue to the President--and by making a strident anti-Soviet speech at his major Orange County fund-raiser in May.
Branded a Liberal
When he entered the primary, Zschau--who is pro-choice on abortion and once voted for a nuclear freeze--was branded a liberal by his rivals for the nomination.
But when asked the day before the primary if he had become more conservative over the course of the campaign, he replied, "I think so."
Zschau must now reassure Democrats and independents that he is not too conservative, since he cannot win the general election with Republican votes alone. (Republicans make up only 38% of the state electorate.)
In trying to make Zschau's move back to the middle as difficult as possible, Cranston notes that Zschau was recently endorsed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority. Zschau replies that Falwell "would back anyone over Sen. Cranston."
Now, with condemnation of the South African government's racial policies growing around the world, Cranston, a longtime critic of the South African leadership, is accusing Zschau of being too conservative on the issue of sanctions against the South African government.
The senator noted at a recent press conference that while Zschau says he is opposed to apartheid, he refuses to support the severe sanctions that have grown in popularity on Capitol Hill in the wake of the South African government's recent crackdown on protests.
Sanctions passed last week in the House are similar to those sponsored in the Senate by Cranston and Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.). Among other things, the sanctions would impose a trade embargo and require U.S. companies and individuals to sever all economic ties with South Africa within 180 days.
Zschau says such actions would end "the only positive influence we have in South Africa" and would put out of work the approximately 80,000 blacks now employed by U.S. companies. He continues to support President Reagan's less severe sanctions.