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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / ASSEMBLY, CONGRESS : Heat Turned Up on Incumbents in 3 Races, but They Appear Safe


The incumbents in three of the Southeast's feistier congressional and Assembly races appear safe, even though the underdogs have stepped up their campaigns in the final days before Tuesday's election.

In the 42nd Congressional District, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) has taken some shots for his opposition to federal funding of art projects he considers obscene. Disclosures of his alleged drug use as a young man have also stung him.

The race in the 63rd Assembly District, meanwhile, took a nasty turn when the previously polite Republican challenger, Diane P. Boggs, sent out two hit mailers last week in her under-funded effort to unseat Assemblyman Bob Epple (D-Norwalk).

In the 52nd Assembly District, Republican Paul V. Horcher has used more than $300,000 of his own money to fend off Gary Neely, a conservative Democrat being supported by maverick Republicans. The 52nd District seat was held by Republican Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier) before he moved up to the state Senate in a special election this year.

The allegations that Rohrabacher used drugs first appeared in an article in New Republic magazine. A former friend of Rohrabacher's was quoted as saying that he had seen the congressman use marijuana, hashish and LSD as a young man, more than 20 years ago.

The former friend, Gene Berkman of Riverside, said he had decided to come forward with the information because of the strong anti-drug stance Rohrabacher has taken since becoming a congressman in 1988.

In an interview with The Times at the time of the New Republic uproar, Rohrabacher, 43, would not confirm or deny that he used drugs in his youth. "Mistakes that I may have made in this area were over 20 years ago," he said. "Since that time, I have lived a very responsible life (and) held very responsible positions in government."

Rohrabacher also suffered a major political defeat in the waning days of the campaign, when both the House and Senate voted to renew funding for the National Endowment for the Arts without major restrictions on the content of NEA-sponsored art projects.

Rohrabacher had been a major proponent of withholding funding for material that offended any religion, was "indecent" or could be interpreted as denigrating the U.S. flag.

His opponent, Democrat Guy Kimbrough, had made a point of disagreeing with Rohrabacher's stand, which Kimbrough likened to government censorship. Kimbrough, a political science instructor from Huntington Beach, ran against Rohrabacher in 1988 but lost, nearly 2 to 1.

The race for the 63rd Assembly District seat attracted attention in the last week as Boggs, a Downey City Council member, went on the offensive.

Epple, the 41-year-old incumbent, has been running an anti-crime campaign that focused on legislation he sponsored that toughened penalties for people convicted of selling or using drugs near a school. The words drug-free zone has become the mantra of his campaign.

Last week, Boggs sent two mailers that criticized Epple for failing to vote to move several anti-crime bills onto the Assembly floor for a vote. Motions to pull the bills out of committee for Assembly consideration failed during the last legislative session.

Epple said that while he supported some of the legislation in question, he thought the bills should move through committee before a vote of the full Assembly.

The race is expected to be close, based on the grueling election battle between then-Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) and Epple in 1988. Epple won the seat by a mere 220 votes.

Democrats were put on alert when the California Republican Party put out a fund-raising mailer, signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, saying Epple was one of six Democratic incumbents across the state targeted for defeat.

In addition, Boggs committed $50,000 of her own money to her campaign, usually a sign that strong party support will follow.

But Epple has out-campaigned Boggs, who ended up receiving minimal support from her party.

Epple also holds a significant money advantage, having raised $291,294, according to campaign disclosure statements.

Boggs has raised just $74,876. And she said she is not expecting last-minute help from the Republican Party.

"I think she's been putting up a much weaker fight than I thought she would," Epple said. "I don't think she's had the support of her party, and I think that's weakened her campaign."

Boggs said Republican Party officials did not promise her a great deal of support, but she was hoping to receive more backing as the campaign progressed. She theorized that she may have been used as a decoy so the Democrats would divert money to Epple and away from other races.

"I have to hang in there to the end, but I won't pretend that his ability to out-mail me isn't distressing," Boggs said.

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