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Decision '92 : SPECIAL VOTERS' GUIDE TO STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS : THE CONGRESSIONAL RACES : Contest With Bitter Overtones

October 25, 1992

The race in the 50th Congressional District, once expected to be little more than an electoral formality because of its lopsided partisan makeup, has instead become one of San Diego County's most acrimonious campaigns.

With Democratic San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner enjoying significant name recognition, financial and demographic advantages in the heavily Democratic district, Republican nominee Tony Valencia has taken a sharply negative tack in an attempt to make Filner's character the issue in their campaign.

"People are not asking about jobs and public safety," said Valencia, the 58-year-old founder of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, which promotes trans-border commerce, helps minority youths develop careers and assists small and minority businesses. "They're asking, 'What are you going to do to insure Bob Filner doesn't represent us in Congress?' He's deceived and misled the constituency for so long that it's finally catching up with him."

Filner, a 50-year-old former San Diego city school board member who was overwhelmingly reelected to a second council term last fall, dismisses Valencia's attacks as "the last resort of someone with no plans for jobs, housing, education, health care or any other major issue."

"He discusses issues in only the vaguest terms and somehow finds a way to turn everything back into a personal attack on me," said Filner, who won a contentious six-candidate Democratic primary in June. "I think that tells voters more about my opponent than it does about me."

Valencia's rhetorical salvos have occasionally produced a backlash, as when he injected ethnicity and race into one forum by calling Filner a "white liberal" and pointing out that Filner, like imprisoned junk-bond king Michael Milken, is Jewish.

Although Valencia insisted that he intended no ethnic slight, Filner described his remarks as "racism and extremism of the worst kind." Many at the candidates' forum where Valencia spoke also strongly criticized Valencia, as typified by a Chicano Federation board member who called his comments "disgusting and totally inappropriate."

The increasing enmity in the campaign has obscured major policy differences between the two major candidates. Filner, for example, advocates unfettered abortion rights, while Valencia opposes public funding for poor women and favors parental notification in the case of minors. In addition, Valencia supports the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, while Filner opposes it, warning that it could harm American jobs and the environment.

Libertarian Barbara Hutchinson and Peace and Freedom candidate Roger Batchelder round out the ballot in the southern San Diego County district, which has a 50%-34% Democratic registration advantage.

Hutchinson, a well-known local tax protester who was imprisoned in the 1980s on mail fraud charges, hopes that voters will view that record as proof "that I'm willing to stand up for what I believe in."

Batchelder, meanwhile, is counting on the public's growing disenchantment with politics to boost his long-shot candidacy.

"You can see what the two major parties have done for us," he said. "Maybe that will make voters take a longer look at someone like me."

CONGRESS / 50th District Roger Batchelder

Age: 43

Birthplace: New York City

Occupation: Rental car transporter

Peace & Freedom Bob Filner

Age: 50

Birthplace: New York

Occupation: San Diego councilman

Democrat Barbara Hutchinson

Age: 65

Birthplace: Jackson, Ala.

Occupation: Tax researcher

Libertarian Tony Valencia

Age: 58

Birthplace: Firestone, Colo.

Occupation: Teacher

Republican

Times writer Barry M. Horstman wrote these summaries of the congressional races.

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