There are people who come up to Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston all the time as he travels around California in quest of a fourth term.
They thank him.
"I cracked up a plane in Sicily in World War II," says a veteran waiting for Cranston to arrive at a community meeting in Los Angeles. "My benefits were cut off a couple of times, and the senator always got them reinstated. I just wanted to say thanks."
They hand him things.
A woman in Nevada City gives Cranston a letter praising his crusade against the nuclear arms race.
"You are the American Gandhi," she gushes.
The father of a 14-year-old boy shoves his son's poem into the senator's big, bony hands:
\o7 The blue sky, the trees
My dog, a fresh breeze
All of these are things I'd miss
If a fireball destroyed this\f7 .
Cranston accepts the veteran's gratitude with a clap on the back and his trademark shout--"Great!" Then he quickly moves on. No chitchat from this cerebral workaholic.
The letters and poems he saves until he is buckled into his campaign plane. As he reads, the pages fall like petals into the enormous black briefcase at his feet.
Sometimes, it seems, the thoughts expressed in those letters are almost too much for Cranston. Maybe they get too close. He pulls from the briefcase batches of newspaper clippings that have been shipped out by his Washington office.
No politics in these clips. They are articles about the 1986 professional football season. Alan Cranston, advocate of a nuclear freeze, critic of the Pentagon, loves the warlike game of football almost as much as he loves campaigning.
With a recent Los Angeles Times Poll showing him leading Republican challenger Ed Zschau by 15 points, Cranston would appear to be the liberal alive and well in the age of Ronald Reagan.
The Gramm-Rudman automatic spending cuts? Cranston voted against them because he said they would cause chaos.
Appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court? Cranston blasted conservative Justice William H. Rehnquist, President Reagan's choice for chief justice, and voted against him.
The death penalty? Cranston opposes it even though polls show that about 70% of Californians support it.
"I think the best decision Alan made when we started this campaign was to not run away from his image and his record," says Cranston campaign spokesman Kam Kuwata.
Cranston is the old-style Democrat, defying those in his own party who said after Walter Mondale's presidential debacle in 1984 that appealing to constituent groups no longer worked.
He holds community forums for working mothers on the subject of day care. He tells veterans that he will block the sale of vacant land beside their hospital complex in West Los Angeles.
To Jews he notes his support for Israel and opposition to arms sales to Arab countries.
He tells environmentalists that he is lending his name--and $25,000--to the campaign for Proposition 65, the anti-toxics initiative.
Cranston argued over dinner one evening that, far from being a weakness, his appeal to constituent groups is the secret to his success.
"There are all sorts of constituencies in California, and it requires not just reaching them with television ads but (also) developing relationships with their leaders and making plain that you understand their concerns and that you're trying to do something to help them," Cranston said as he gnawed on a lamb chop.
Vigorous, Even Youthful
His lower front teeth are ground off like those of an old horse. Still, up close, the 72-year-old senator is vigorous, even youthful.
The arms are muscular. The mind is quick as he dismisses a reporter's theory or talks about a book he is reading or marvels at an idea he got from an aide who is half his age.
Tapping his glass of wine for emphasis, Cranston continued: "I do think one of my advantages in this campaign--and one of Ed Zschau's problems--is that I have been all over this state for so many years I have longstanding ties in every community.
"There are minority groups and women who feel I understand their needs and issues. There are native Americans and a lot of smaller groups--there is a Tamil group I've tried to help, there are Sikhs I've tried to help.
"My ties to Japanese-Americans go back to World War II when I tried to fend off their relocation. Blacks know of my fight for civil rights."
And, indeed, as the 46-year-old Zschau struggles in his first statewide campaign, Cranston shows a grasp of California that his Senate press secretary, Murray S. Flander, describes as "understanding not just the commonality of interests in California but the conflicts."
"Alan can see a degree of validity to both sides of an argument and he is always trying for balance," Flander says. "He tries to give the losing side something."
The classic example, Flander says, involves Mt. Baldy in Southern California.