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Senate Race--a Focus on Image : Zschau Moves to the Right to Shore Up Conservative Base

October 27, 1986|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

To be moderate or to be conservative? The question has pursued Republican Ed Zschau from the inception of his drive for the U.S. Senate. It has shaped the character of his campaign, divided his old supporters, deepened the well-known bags under the eyes of his campaign manager and, in the end, taken some of the gleam off Zschau himself.

Those who have followed Zschau's short but exciting career in public life recall just a few months ago hearing a high-technology entrepreneur-politician--a congressman from the so-called Silicon Valley whose speeches reached for tomorrow. He declared that Ronald Reagan's presidency was only a start on the future. "On a list of issues I feel there may be better ways," he boldly stated back in August.

He proclaimed himself the strongest possible GOP candidate against venerable Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston because "I can reach out to the center of the political spectrum."

In the months since, Zschau has moved steadily, if not sharply, to the right. He has reached out, not for moderates, but for conservatives, and closed his distance from Reagan. In fact, so many pictures are now circulating of the President and Zschau side-by-side that one might mistake the U.S. Senate candidate for a White House aide instead of an independent-minded congressman who has opposed Reagan about one-third of the time.

Now, when Zschau talks about the future, he refers to the urgency of keeping a Republican majority in the Senate for the final two years of Reagan's term.

"In order to win we felt that we had to make sure we got the Republican base, and then the conservative Democrats," Zschau said in a recent interview between campaign stops.

Besides, Zschau added, "The so-called moderate issues don't really attract that many people."

Two Basic Themes

To try to avoid tensions between moderates and conservatives, Zschau has narrowed his campaign to two basic themes that seem to appeal to voters in both categories: crime and government spending. "I was surprised that the law-and-order and spending issues have such broad appeal," Zschau said. "But they reach a broad cross-section of the political spectrum."

Zschau also has enlisted a whole range of Republican notables to join him on the stump in the closing days of the campaign, from former President Gerald R. Ford to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Vice President George Bush has come to California three times to help and the President is due in twice more before the Nov. 4 election.

Some of Zschau's old hometown friends are unimpressed, however.

Thomas Peters, author of "In Search of Excellence" and a former backer of Zschau, last week joined a small group of leaders in the high-technology industry who said the conservative drift has gone too far.

"Ed Zschau has moved farther to the right and sometimes I don't know where the hell he's moving. . . . He obviously realized that the only thing that matters in the Republican Party is the Orange County vote," Peters said. "And depending on whether he happens to be campaigning in Santa Clara County or Irvine, it has been difficult to figure out where he stands on the great moral issues."

Paper Endorses Cranston

In Zschau's home region of Los Altos, the San Jose Mercury News, which has supported him in the past, endorsed Cranston on Sunday. The paper indicated it had been fond of the "maverick" in Zschau. But the newspaper editorial said Zschau's recent appeal for conservative support "makes us wonder where the maverick went."

Campaign manager Ron Smith acknowledged that Zschau's conservative emphasis has meant some losses as well as gains in support.

"We've picked up a lot of new voters. But we've lost a certain percentage of voters we had in June," Smith said in an interview. In June, Zschau projected himself as the most moderate of a baker's dozen of GOP Senate hopefuls, and won the Senate nomination while conservatives split their vote among rivals.

As a result of the losses of support among moderates, Zschau has gone back into his inventory of television commercials from the primary election. The campaign selected an advertisement strong on moderate themes and began re-running it to audiences in the moderate-to-liberal San Francisco Bay Area.

The ad tells voters of Zschau's support for the equal rights amendment, for wild rivers and for his support of a moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

"We want those people to know he's still the same Ed Zschau they saw back in June," Smith said.

Not Seen in Southland

The advertisement has not been aired in Southern California, where Zschau has labored hardest to quell conservative uneasiness.

At a weekend appearance in affluent Rancho Mirage, for instance, Zschau spoke to a conservative audience and delivered a pitch straight from Reagan.

"The President has asked people throughout California who have supported him in the past, and I just want to convey his request to you again--win this one more for the Gipper."

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