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Dianne or Pete: Who Will Win the Big Race?

November 04, 1990

The California governor's race between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Pete Wilson is down to the wire. The Times asked nine political observers, none connected with the campaigns: Who's going to win? By how much? And why?

* Mary Ellen Leary, California correspondent, the Economist:

Final pre-election days are critical, not because of TV ads, candidate attacks or presidential visits, but for an unseen strategy engineered by party organization. This state considers voters indifferent to party. Yet suddenly it is party that seems to be making the difference.

My expectation is that Wilson will take the governorship by about a 2% edge, due to a strongly financed and intensely organized precinct-level Republican Party campaign to cinch loyal GOP votes by getting the faithful to cast absentee ballots. Sure, Democrats are doing it, too, but less and later. "Votes by mail" are pouring in at levels topping all prior records, registrars in major counties say.

The national Republican Party is aware of its enormous stake in making sure Republican veto power is available over reapportionment lines drawn by Democratic legislators. The Feinstein campaign has been better, stronger, livelier than was Tom Bradley's in 1982. But the GOP commitment to capturing the governorship dominates Wilson's fate. Unless, of course, environmentalists prove themselves the new political force--stronger than party--they claim to be and tip the scales for Feinstein.

* Bud Lembke, editor and publisher, Political Pulse newsletter:

Wilson will win by a few percentage points. I thought it was Feinstein's to win when she had momentum coming out of the June primary. She has apparently failed, however, to win the women's vote.

I say "apparently," because it is possible women could have second thoughts from what they are telling pollsters. They could remain true to their gender when they vote. Polling of those women casting absentee ballots, however, doesn't show any second thoughts, so I think the candidate who has the best campaign will win--and that is Wilson.

* Joe Scott,editor of the California Eye and the Political Animal newsletters:

Wilson will beat Feinstein by a minimum of 7%--at least 500,000 votes--in a race sadly lacking real clarity about how either would govern California into the 1990s.

A lucky Wilson--after beating more polarizing Democratic Senate foes Jerry Brown and Leo McCarthy--drew in Feinstein another dream opponent whose negatives far exceed his own. Feinstein's positive "star quality" image faded fast over the summer when her negative TV ads outmatched Wilson's.

. . . Nor did Feinstein overcome her weak appeal to men voters, key to the famous "grabber" ad, which won her the primary, showing that a woman can lead in a time of crisis. Feinstein made a major strategic mistake in their only debate. By failing to link Wilson to the unpopular regime of lame-duck Gov. George Deukmejian, she forfeited the hot-button "outsider" theme of running against Sacramento.

By default, Wilson's best issues--crime, drugs, taxes and fiscal management--have resonated far better with a cautious electorate than Feinstein's clear edge on environmental and social concerns.

* Dick Rosengarten, co-publisher, California Political Week:

The winner will be Wilson by four to five points. He's made the fewest critical mistakes. Feinstein waited too long before attacking Wilson on his absenteeism, and she should have debated Wilson a second time. She needed the exposure and boost going into the final weeks of the campaign.

* Mari Goldman, editor and publisher, Women's Alert newsletter:

Who: Wilson. How much: At least 6 points. Why: Feinstein has not convinced women to put women's issues first.

Women's Alert is bipartisan; we do not advocate nor do we prognosticate, but we do talk to women. For Feinstein to win, she has to convince women of both parties to be loyal to their own interests. There are significant numbers of men who would never vote for a woman. Feinstein has to convince enough women that she should be elected to balance the male gender shift in Wilson's favor. She has not done so yet.

Women have traditionally voted against their own interest. Women told us that they were extremely upset with Wilson for missing a key vote on abortion funding and for voting against the 1990 Civil Rights Act. Many of those same women will forgive Wilson and will allow themselves to become convinced that discrimination does not affect them.

California Republicans for Choice is concerned about saving the Republican Party from the "far religious right." That group will forgive Wilson straying from the fold by voting against abortion funding because he is pro-choice and a moderate Republican.

. . . White women feel too threatened to ally themselves with minority groups generally. Politically, California's African-American women have been phenomenally more successful than white women. African-American women know they are discriminated against and act accordingly.

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