WASHINGTON — Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who has been weighing whether he should run for governor or U.S. Senate, said Friday that he is leaning toward challenging Republican Sen. Pete Wilson in the 1988 campaign.
At a Capitol Hill luncheon with reporters, McCarthy, who officially came to Washington to attend a lieutenant governors conference, said he met with Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Democratic senatorial campaign committee.
McCarthy would not say what the senators told him but Alan Katz, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff, said McCarthy "came to ask some questions and liked the answers." McCarthy said he will make an official announcement of his plans in two weeks.
McCarthy has said that the key consideration in running for the Senate is whether he can raise the necessary money. McCarthy set up an "informal exploratory committee" for a Senate race about a month ago, said press aide Steve Hopcraft. Hopcraft said McCarthy hopes to raise $500,000 in campaign funds by the end of May.
At the luncheon Friday, the two-term lieutenant governor sounded very much the candidate, pointing out differences between himself and Wilson and blasting the incumbent's positions on defense spending and arms control.
He said that Wilson "favors scrapping the most serious treaty we have on defense weapons," the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and has backed President Reagan's military buildup.
"Any serious Democratic challenger in this race . . . would get the impression that (Wilson believes) you automatically get national security and stronger defense by simply spending more and more money on defense," McCarthy said.
In addition to his sessions with leading senators, McCarthy said that he has conferred with labor, business and professional organizations and has been "encouraged" to run for the Senate.
McCarthy, who is also considering a race for governor, said he finds the Senate "uniquely appealing because of the life-and-death (issues) you have a chance to impact, whether we're able to raise our kids in a relatively safe world . . . or the national economy and trade issues."
But, he added, "I could say some strong things about the appeal of being governor too."
A February California Poll by Mervin Field showed Wilson well ahead of McCarthy in a possible race, 53% to 31%. Among possible Democratic contenders, McCarthy was the favorite by a small margin.
McCarthy also has met with another potential Democratic senatorial candidate, Rep. Robert T. Matsui. An aide to Matsui said that his boss is still "seriously considering" running for the Senate in what could be a crowded primary race. Secretary of State March Fong Eu already has officially declared her candidacy.
After McCarthy's luncheon, a spokesman for Wilson defended the incumbent's record on defense and arms control. The spokesman said that Wilson, a strong Reagan supporter who favors a broad interpretation of the ABM treaty that would allow for testing and deployment of space-based weapons, "does support a strong defense--but he's also a strong supporter of arms control initiatives, as long it is verifiable on both sides."