SACRAMENTO — During the primary election campaign for the U.S. Senate, Ed Zschau described himself as the kind of moderate Republican who could appeal to independents and Democrats. Now, with the GOP nomination his, Zschau is working to make sure he is perceived also as the kind of conservative Republican who can excite Republicans.
A week of campaigning by Zschau keyed to GOP unity concluded here Saturday with an endorsement luncheon featuring Vice President George Bush, who brought the blessing of the most important Republican of all--Ronald Reagan.
While it is hardly surprising for a Republican Senate candidate to receive the endorsement of a Republican Administration, Zschau made the most of it.
Building a Base
"We're building the base of our campaign," Zschau told reporters at a joint press conference with Bush.
"This is incredibly important because it demonstrates the united support of Republicans behind my candidacy. The way in which (opponent Democratic Sen.) Alan Cranston has won in the past is by getting 20% to 30% of the Republican vote as well as Democrats and independents. We felt it was very important to get the Republican vote, and then go to other segments of the political spectrum."
Bush, wrapping up a three-day, five-state swing to help GOP candidates, repeated what has become an article of faith about the 1986 elections; that Republican control of the U.S. Senate for the final quarter of the Reagan presidency may hinge on the outcome of the Zschau-Cranston race.
"You are presented with a stark choice between the politics of the future, of growth and opportunity, on one hand; and the politics of the past, the tired liberalism of days gone by, on the other," Bush told a luncheon crowd that chipped in $150,000 for Zschau's election.
Speaking to reporters, Bush plainly addressed the reason it was necessary for Zschau to focus so intently on uniting his own party--the nominee's moderate stands on social issues, such as his support for abortions.
"He's supported the President some 70% of the time," Bush said of Zschau. And then the vice president added, "Nobody asks for 100%. He's got to vote his convictions and his constituents."
Bush declined to discuss the 30% of the time Zschau disagrees with the Administration, saying, "I'm not going to help you find differences."
During the hard-fought California Senate primary campaign, several rivals ganged up on Zschau for being too liberal on social issues for the mainstream of the party. Few, however, challenged his conservative credentials on economic matters.
Zschau, who also organized "unity" luncheons earlier in the week in Los Angeles and Orange counties, argued that partisan differences between himself and Cranston are vastly more significant than the ideological differences that separate Zschau from the conservative wing of the California GOP.
"Cranston has voted against the President 75% of the time," he said.
Several of the 12 candidates Zschau defeated have joined with him in the unity effort, including television commentator Bruce Herschensohn, a favorite of conservatives. Besides Bush, Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, one of the President's closest political friends, has come from out of state to support Zschau, and a parade of others is likely.
At the same time, however, Zschau strategists and other Republican leaders in the state concede there is plenty of work left to do. Most of it, they said, will have to be done in the conservative stronghold of Orange County.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove said Zschau has "got his work cut out for him." The reason, Dornan said, is that few voters hold a deep antipathy for Cranston. "In fact, I kind of like Alan Cranston," the conservative Dornan said.
Kenneth Khachigian, Orange County speech writer and adviser to Reagan and Gov. George Deukmejian, is among those conservatives reminding Zschau "you can't take your base for granted."
Will Need the Votes
Khachigian calculates that Zschau will need 85% to 90% of the Republican vote "or he's going to have to dig into the other guy's hide. And I don't know how realistic that is."
Zschau acknowledged in an interview that some very conservative Republicans remain unconvinced that he would be a worthy addition to the U.S. Senate.
"There are some people who apparently think that six (more) years of Alan Cranston is better than 24 years of Ed Zschau," Zschau said with an air of disbelief.
Besides public attempts at forging party unity, Zschau has been meeting privately with conservative leaders, including Paul M. Weyrich of the Washington-based Free Congress PAC, an organization that emphasizes conservative social issues. Weyrich actively led an ABZ, or Anybody But Zschau, movement in the California primary.
"There will be additional meetings, not just with him but with people in his coalition. Not for me to make any deal but to enable people to know exactly where I am coming from," Zschau said.