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Democrats Lining Up for 1988 Senate Race

July 20, 1987|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

In a conspicuous, perhaps desperate, restyling of her political strategy, Secretary of State March Fong Eu will pull back from her troubled U.S. Senate candidacy for the coming months. Instead, her top aides said she will concentrate on her anti-crime ballot initiative--Dimes Against Crimes.

Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, another Democratic Senate hopeful, meanwhile, has reassembled most of the nationally known team of campaign professionals who engineered last year's narrow reelection victory for U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston in California.

With 11 months to go until the California Senate primary election, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento) continues his marathon flirtation with the race and promises to make his decision soon. Dark horse contender Bill Press, a Los Angeles television commentator, has opened a campaign office and hired his first skeleton staff as he tries to raise enough money to be taken seriously.

This summer's Democratic campaign activity occurs as the first Senate election fund-raising reports are being prepared for the year 1987. The reports are due July 31 and cover the first six months of the year.

McCarthy and Matsui will report roughly equal amounts, about $650,000, in their campaign treasuries, according to their aides.

Eu will report raising about $250,000 with about $150,000 unspent, her office said. Press said he deliberately did not file candidacy papers before June 30 so he would not have to submit a fund-raising account this summer. He said he wanted to give himself more time to build up a war chest.

All the Democrats lag far behind the fund-raising efforts of Republican incumbent Pete Wilson, who will show about $2 million banked for his reelection, according to his staff. Wilson faces no serious GOP opposition.

Here is a candidate-by-candidate look at developments in the California Senate race:

MARCH FONG EU

No contender of either party has had as much grief in the campaign as Eu. Doubts have grown during the months, both inside and outside her campaign, about her ability to raise money and her grasp of national and international affairs, among other things.

So perhaps something extreme such as redirecting her political energies was inevitable.

Campaign consultant Sandy Weiner said Eu "will be talking about 'Dimes' and the Senate race, in that order. . . . This initiative starts her campaign, and then she transfers to the federal level."

Her top deputy, Anthony Miller, said Eu and her campaign staff have not decided precisely how they will describe this strategic recasting.

"The exact words have not been defined. She will be subordinating her Senate campaign. But whether we call it 'putting it on hold,' or 're-prioritizing' or 'diversion of energy' hasn't been decided," he said.

Law Enforcement Funds

At the best, the shake-up puts Eu on ground she has found comfortable in the past--crusading on a single issue with broad popular appeal. Her initiative would put a surcharge of 10 cents on each half pint of hard liquor and increase taxes slightly on beer and wine. Estimated proceeds of $150 million would be apportioned to police and sheriff's departments.

The proposal arose after the savage mugging of Eu in her Hancock Park home. A robber took $300, apparently for drugs.

"Crime is going to be her main focus. . . . When she goes to Washington, she will be going there primarily as a crime fighter," Weiner said.

There may be other reasons as well behind the switch in strategy. Except from her base of Asian-American supporters, Eu has found it difficult to raise money under restrictive federal laws limiting individual donations to $1,000 per person. No doubt it will be easier for her to raise money for a ballot initiative where there are no limits on giving.

She will not be free to openly intermingle funds raised by her twin campaigns, but the line between the two may prove comfortably blurred, enhancing her ability to keep in the public eye as the election approaches.

Although unspoken, the decision to change her emphasis to the anti-crime initiative could also provide Eu a graceful way out of the Senate campaign if the going stays tough.

Besides difficulty in raising money, she was already embarrassed on television by her inability to discuss even the rudiments of arms control. And she has brought on a wave of questions with her assertion that, under federal law, she does not have to disclose details of her husband's wealth because she receives no benefit from him.

Starting later this month, Eu will begin seeking signatures for her initiative at a series of press conferences at police stations around the state.

The campaign, relying on professional and volunteer signature-gatherers, aims to collect nearly 1 million names within five months. The law requires 595,485 valid signatures for the measure to appear on the ballot next June, along with the U.S. Senate and presidential primary candidates.

LEO T. McCARTHY

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