The battle for moderate and independent voters always is crucial in California's U.S. Senate races, and Democrats who would like to face Republican incumbent Pete Wilson next year insisted Tuesday that Wilson already has hurt himself with those voters by embracing the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings Sept. 15 on Bork, a conservative scholar who is a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Wilson, who will get the opportunity to vote on Bork when the nomination goes to the full Senate, said Monday in response to a question that he has "every inclination" to vote for Bork.
Tempestuous Hearings Likely
The hearings are expected to be stormy as liberal groups and others pressure the senators to reject the Bork nomination. They say they are particularly concerned about some of Bork's rulings affecting minority rights and about his statement that Roe vs. Wade, the historic 1973 court ruling that legalized abortion, is unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday that it will oppose the nomination of Bork.
Wilson said Tuesday that he had talked recently with Bork and was reassured that Bork would not necessarily vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade when the court reconsiders the abortion issue.
But that was not enough for the Senate campaign of California Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy.
"Wilson has held his own judiciary committee hearing and has come to a conclusion that should surprise no one," said McCarthy campaign manager Darry Sragow. McCarthy is in Moscow this week to meet with Jews who have not been allowed to leave the Soviet Union.
Although Wilson's pro-choice position on abortion and other stances make him a social moderate in the California Republican Party, Sragow charged, "He has a moderate veneer that gets thinner day by day."
KABC-TV commentator Bill Press, who also would like the Democratic nomination to face Wilson, said Tuesday:
"For the last five years Pete Wilson has been masquerading as a moderate. But for the second time in the last month the smoke has cleared and the real Pete Wilson has stood out. First he called for the pardon of Oliver North and John Poindexter and now he says he would vote for Bork. He does not have the backbone to stand up to reactionaries."
California Secretary of State March Fong Eu has put her Democratic Senate campaign on hold for now, but according to her top deputy, Tony Miller, Eu said, "If Pete Wilson supports Bork, he will have to live with that in the Senate campaign."
Wilson said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the attacks by his potential opponents were "of very little concern" because he had studied Bork's writings and his record and concluded that President Reagan had chosen a solid replacement for retiring Justice Lewis F. Powell.
Praise by Some Democrats
Even some Democrats have praised the federal judges recommended by Wilson during his five years in the Senate and he said Tuesday, "I will be delighted to . . . put my candidates up against (former California Chief Justice) Rose Elizabeth Bird, who was a favorite of Mr. McCarthy."
Wilson said he expected Bork to be criticized for firing Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in October, 1973, after Cox demanded to hear President Nixon's White House tapes. Bork was solicitor general when Atty. Gen. Elliot Richardson and Deputy Atty. Gen. William Ruckleshaus quit rather than follow Nixon's order to fire Cox.
But Wilson noted Tuesday that Richardson has praised Bork and urged that he be confirmed to the Supreme Court.