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Zschau Pushes Innovation in Senate Race--Facing Issues

July 10, 1986|KEITH LOVE | Times Political Writer

Tired of the same old pancakes and waffles in California's U. S. Senate race? Fed up with getting to know Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston and his Republican challenger, Rep. Ed Zschau, through slick television ads?

How about some televised debates in which the issues of the day could be discussed "in the tradition of . . . Lincoln-Douglas"?

That is what Zschau proposed Wednesday as he announced that he is disappointed with the first month of his battle with Cranston. Later in the day, Cranston said he would agree to the debates.

"The U. S. Senate race is now a month old, and we have four months left to go," Zschau said at a press conference in Costa Mesa. "So far it has been rather typical--TV advertisements, attacks and responses, gimmicks on both sides. . . . I think if it continues over the next four months the way it has, Sen. Cranston and I will miss a significant opportunity for a series of classic debates on the issues facing the future of the state and the country. . . .

'Set a New Standard'

"If we are able to reach agreement on this, not only will we set a new standard of campaigning in the tradition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but also I believe it will serve to raise the confidence of the people in the political process."

Both men have acknowledged somewhat sheepishly that the "confidence of the people" was probably not enhanced when, right after the campaign began early last month, Zschau served waffles at a breakfast to draw attention to Cranston's "waffling" on various issues while Cranston served pancakes to ridicule Zschau for "flip-flopping like a flapjack" on some key House votes.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, on the other hand, traveled throughout Illinois in 1858 debating slavery, the issue that would ultimately split the nation into civil war. Historians have called their exchanges "the high point in stump speaking."

Cranston and Zschau have talked about issues in the last few weeks, although not on the same dais. And that is the reason that Zschau is disappointed in the first month of the campaign, Cranston press secretary Kam Kuwata charged Wednesday.

As Aggressive as Expected

"Zschau lost round one," Kuwata said. "We are controlling the debate. We are raising major questions about the various positions that Congressman Zschau has taken on South Africa, toxic waste and Israel, and we are raising grave doubts in the minds of California voters about what this guy stands for, what motivates him and about whether he has any values and principles to guide him in making decisions."

Although Zschau advisers disagree with that assessment, they acknowledge privately that Cranston and his advisers have been every bit as aggressive as they had expected. Leading the way has been Cranston himself.

When the House recently took up the aid package for Nicaraguan rebels, for example, Cranston roamed the House chamber buttonholing congressmen and ridiculing Zschau's decision to switch and support the contra arms package after he decided to run for the Senate and needed to improve his conservative credentials.

And when Zschau returned last week from a trip to Israel--which he hastily scheduled after Cranston questioned his resolve to support that country--the senator sent Zschau a letter welcoming him back from his "trip of atonement."

On Wednesday, the Zschau campaign sent its debate challenge to Cranston along with a request that the senator sign a pledge to campaign fairly. Only problem was that the Zschau camp forgot to enclose the pledge itself, which Zschau had signed.

Said Kuwata: "Just like Ed Zschau--nice package but nothing inside."

Kuwata, a feisty strategist who cut his teeth on Cranston's 1984 presidential campaign, has got under the skin of the Zschau camp to the point that earlier this week Zschau campaign manager, Ron Smith, asked Kuwata to leave a Zschau press conference when he spotted him in the back of the room. On Wednesday, Kuwata sent Smith a special credential to encourage Smith to attend any Cranston press conference.

'American Tradition' Cited

There was also a note from Kuwata that said: "While we all agree that only members of the working press should be allowed to participate in news conferences, it is an American tradition that any interested person who is not disruptive be permitted to listen to what a public official has to say."

Zschau indicated in his remarks Wednesday that such actions would fall under the label of "gimmicks" in his mind. But with Zschau untested in a statewide campaign, the Cranston camp indicated that it has no intention of abandoning tactics designed to keep Zschau off balance.

As for the debates, Cranston said late Wednesday that he had challenged Zschau to debate last month, the night the congressman won the Republican nomination. All that remains, Cranston said, is for the details of the debates to be worked out by both candidates' campaign staffs.

Round 2 in Cranston-Zschau is about to begin.

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