A political adviser to Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson predicted Wednesday that Democratic media attacks on Wilson will begin as early as next February--even before there is a Democratic nominee in the 1988 Senate race.
"That is when they will come out of the box with their media (television ads)," Newport Beach consultant Stuart K. Spencer said at a breakfast meeting with political reporters in Los Angeles.
"This will be a battle of definition. They will try to define Pete before he does."
McCarthy Expected to Be Foe
Spencer expects the Democratic senatorial nominee to be Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who faces a primary election challenge from former television commentator Bill Press.
McCarthy will not wait for Democrats to vote on him and Press next June before going after Wilson, Spencer said, because McCarthy's chief consultants, Robert Shrum and David Doak of Washington, have a pattern of early negative attacks on their clients' opponents in an attempt to "define them before they can define themselves."
That is what Doak and Shrum did very effectively for Sen. Alan Cranston in 1986, although they did wait until the day after the Republican primary to go after Cranston's opponent, former Rep. Ed Zschau.
Independent polls continue to show that Wilson is not known by a large portion of the California electorate even after five years in the Senate. That is expected to start the "definition game" early.
When another Wilson adviser, Otto Bos, was asked Wednesday if the senator would begin his own television ads early next year, he replied, "Stay tuned."
Spencer said he expects Wilson's Democratic opponent in 1988 to attack him as "a captive of the defense Establishment" because of the senator's strong support for President Reagan's military buildup.
"They'll go after him on the Bork thing, too," Spencer added, referring to Wilson's early endorsement of Judge Robert Bork's ill-fated nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wilson has worked for years to build an image as a moderate on social issues, but some analysts believe he badly undercut that with his strong support of Bork, who was attacked by women's groups and others for his writings on abortion and other issues.
"Pete was further out front on Bork than he should have been," Spencer said Wednesday.
Asked if he thought Wilson had gone too far to the right, Spencer said, "No. I think he has kept his base with environmentalists and he has positioned himself so that he has no formidable opposition from the right in the Republican primary, which can be a problem in California."
Wilson Wins in Poll
A new California Poll shows Wilson beating McCarthy by nine points, 47% to 38%, in a theoretical match-up for 1988. (The poll showed Press losing to McCarthy 70% to 11% among registered Democrats and losing to Wilson by a 58% to 16% margin in a simulated general election race.)
"I think it (the 1988 general election Senate race) is going to be tight," Spencer said. "But I think Pete will prevail in the end because of his incumbency and because he has done a good job in two areas that will cut into McCarthy pretty well. One is with environmentalists, and the other is with the Jewish community (a traditional Democratic constituency where Wilson has raised a fair amount of money)."