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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : Senate Hopefuls Lead Nation in Race for Cash : Politics: Candidates raise $28 million despite weak economy. Feinstein and Boxer lead GOP opponents in funding, but Seymour and Herschensohn are gaining with party boost.


WASHINGTON — California's four U.S. Senate candidates have raised more than $28 million in contributions from constituents and special interests with much at stake in next week's elections.

Gun owners, real estate interests and big business are fueling the campaigns of Republicans Bruce Herschensohn and John Seymour, while organized labor, women and Hollywood are lining up behind Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

The money generated to finance each of the two Senate races in California this year is more than any congressional race in the country to date. But the two contests will cost considerably less than political experts had predicted. Fund-raisers blame California's deep recession and stiff competition from the presidential campaign and other state races for draining the pool of political donors.

"There's a recession out there," said Richard McBride, Seymour's campaign manager. "People are unemployed. The economy is horrible. Those contributors who are out there who have given in the past have to cut back like everybody else."

Boxer and Herschensohn are running for the six-year seat to replace retiring Sen. Alan Cranston. Feinstein and Seymour are vying for the two-year seat vacated last year by Gov. Pete Wilson.

Heading into the final week of frenzied campaigning before the Nov. 3 election, Boxer and Feinstein are the leading fund-raisers, even as the races are tightening.

But in an infusion of unrestricted cash that probably will equalize the money wars, Herschensohn and Seymour each expect to receive $2.5 million from the Republican Party.

Reflecting his conservative ideology, Herschensohn has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups that include gun owners, religious fundamentalists, former colleagues in the Richard M. Nixon Administration and conservatives led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

Like Herschensohn, Seymour has garnered his share of aerospace, oil and gun money, but has received virtually no funds from anti-abortion groups or the religious right because of his abortion rights position.

Agriculture and real estate, two industries whose interests Seymour has promoted tirelessly on Capitol Hill, are his campaign's richest sources of cash. Individual and PAC contributors for these industries have funneled about $1 million to Seymour's campaign.

At the same time that feminist groups are raising unprecedented amounts for them in the "Year of the Woman," Boxer and Feinstein are relying heavily on the traditional Democratic fund-raising base of labor and the entertainment industry.

Boxer has expanded her base since the June primary, and men now account for 60% of her large individual contributors of $200 or more. Feinstein, the more moderate of the two Democratic women, has received 60% of her large individual donations from men throughout the race.

But liberal women's groups, energized by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill confrontation to increase their representation of two women in the Senate, have raised more than $1 million for the Feinstein and Boxer campaigns.

That level of women's money is new to politics this year and little of it is going to Herschensohn and Seymour. The Hollywood Women's Political Committee has raised $1.2 million for Democrats, with more than $200,000 going to California's two women senatorial candidates.

The two men have a fund-raising advantage of their own in the form of separate $2.5 million commitments from the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Through last month, the Republican committee has given Seymour nearly the full $2.5 million and Herschensohn $1.2 million. Boxer and Feinstein, who have each received less than $500,000 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, are not counting on getting more than $1 million in party funds.

When the U.S. Senate races began in California early last year, political experts predicted that it would take at least $10 million to mount a competitive challenge. But none of the four general election candidates are likely to reach that amount.

Boxer, considered a fund-raising novice at the start of the campaign, collected the most through Oct. 15 with total receipts of $8.8 million. She is followed by Feinstein with $7.1 million, Seymour with $6.3 million and Herschensohn with $6.1 million.

Barbara Boxer

When Boxer entered the Democratic primary against accomplished fund-raisers Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) and Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, she was ridiculed in political circles for her inability to raise money.

No one is laughing at Boxer anymore.

With $8.8 million collected so far, she has raised more money over the past two years than any Senate candidate in the country. And Boxer has revolutionized the art of fund raising in California by raising millions through a vast network of small donors. (Her opponent, Herschensohn, has also broken new ground among small donors.)

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