First it was illegal drugs. Alan Cranston was accused of being like some kind of liberal drug habit.
Now it is Rose Elizabeth Bird. Alan Cranston is accused of being indistinguishable from embattled state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bird soft-on-crime soul mates, together acting "outside the law" to frustrate the death penalty.
With public-opinion polls showing him lagging, Republican senatorial challenger Ed Zschau is meting it out to Democratic Sen. Cranston, and how.
Drugs and Bird and capital punishment are perhaps the most heavily loaded pieces of political baggage in California's 1986 elections. Zschau figures he can make Cranston bear at least some of the weight of them.
In a downtown speech to a young lawyers' group, the Los Angeles County Barristers, and at a follow-up press conference Tuesday, Zschau joined Bird and Cranston in so many references that a reporter finally asked who he is running against.
"In answer to the question, am I running against Rose Bird or Alan Cranston," Zschau replied, "it's hard to tell the difference between the two. They both ignore the will of the people and they both oppose the death penalty."
Opposition to Bird's confirmation and support of the death penalty are planks of increasing importance in Zschau's campaign platform. He differs fundamentally with Cranston on capital punishment. But Cranston says U.S. senators should not be dabbling in questions of state courts and has remained neutral in Bird's confirmation campaign.
In his speech Tuesday, Zschau went so far as to suggest that Bird and Cranston were scofflaws--the chief justice for her consistent votes to reverse the death penalty and the senator for his votes on the Senate floor, which usually but not always are in opposition to the death penalty.
'Uses Her Own Views'
"In my view, Rose Bird has gone outside the law that has been passed by Californians for imposing the death penalty. She uses her own views, or imposes her own views, rather than just applying the law. Alan Cranston does the same thing. That is, the people of California want the death penalty to be used in the case of vicious crimes, but he works against what Californians want."
Zschau defended his focus on Bird, Cranston and the death penalty. "These are issues that people care about between Alan Cranston and Ed Zschau, and the difference is that I represent what the voters want and he doesn't."
But then he was asked about the times when he has taken a stand that runs counter to public opinion. Is he ignoring the people? Two instances, in particular, were raised during the press conference: Zschau's support for military aid to rebels fighting the government of Nicaragua and his opposition to the toxics/drinking water initiative, Proposition 65.
Samplings by the Los Angeles Times Poll this year, backed by other polls, show that more people oppose Zschau's views than support them.
Voters Did Not Understand
In both cases, Zschau said, voters simply did not understand matters the way they comprehend the death penalty.
"On the issue of Nicaragua, let me say this: it is not a well-understood issue," Zschau explained. And, as for Proposition 65: "All the facts on that issue are not well-known."
On the other hand, he continued: "People understand the issue of law and order. They see it every day."
Cranston remains a longtime opponent of capital punishment. But twice in recent years he has voted with death-penalty advocates. These instances involved legislation with broad goals that Cranston said he did not want stymied because of disputes over capital-punishment provisions.
Zschau's attempt to tie Cranston, Bird and the death penalty into one odious political package followed an attempt earlier this fall to associate Cranston's liberalism with the addictive qualities of drugs.
This occurred with a series of one-liners in a major speech. They went like this: "We are well-acquainted with the dangers of using cocaine and crack. Today I would like to tell you about the dangers of taking too much Cranston."
And: "Taking too much Cranston can be dangerous to your wealth. . . . On Nov. 4, voters are going to rise up and kick the Cranston habit."