As the four candidates for California's two U.S. Senate seats stumped the state Friday in a last-minute push for votes, the close race between Barbara Boxer and Bruce Herschensohn took a bizarre turn after a Democratic official accused Herschensohn of frequenting a strip joint and an adult magazine stand.
In the other Senate race, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, her lead over Republican U.S. Sen. John Seymour holding, rallied supporters in Los Angeles and Imperial County, while Seymour met with Glendale officials and youngsters from an Armenian school.
The nonpartisan Field Poll published Friday showed liberal Democrat Boxer and conservative Republican Herschensohn in a virtual tie, she with 44 points and he with 43. Feinstein was 14 points ahead of Seymour among likely voters in the Field survey.
The Herschensohn campaign, meanwhile, got a jolt when a high-ranking Democratic Party official disrupted a Herschensohn appearance at City Hall in Chico and accused the candidate of frequenting Hollywood strip joints and adult bookstores.
A clearly shaken Herschensohn, who has embraced the GOP "family values" platform, at first refused to comment on the accusations, calling them "a pretty desperate thing." But he later conceded that he once visited the Seventh Veil nude-dance club in Hollywood and that he has been a patron of several newsstands that--like most in Los Angeles--sell mainstream and sexually oriented magazines.
The party official who aired the allegations, political director Bob Mulholland, said he brought the charges to light because he considered it hypocritical behavior for someone who campaigns on family values.
Democratic Party leadership immediately distanced itself from Mulholland's disclosures and the Boxer campaign also denied having any knowledge of the allegations.
Boxer spokeswoman Karen Olick said it was not a legitimate issue to raise. However, she added that she agreed it was "hypocritical for someone who's campaigning on religious and family values to engage in this kind of practice."
The developments came as the candidates crisscrossed the state in a full-court press to reach voters.
Feinstein used an appearance in Los Angeles to promote the entire Democratic Party ticket--Bill Clinton, Al Gore and especially Boxer, whose lead over Herschensohn has collapsed.
"It's a one-two punch--a Thelma and Louise for California," Feinstein told a cheering group of about 50 volunteers in reference to the state's unprecedented possibility of sending two women to the U.S. Senate.
Feinstein also emphasized her traditional campaign themes of investing in America, creating jobs and establishing abortion rights as the law of the land. She spoke at her West Los Angeles headquarters, which was festooned with red, white and blue streamers and balloons saying, "Dianne for Senate."
On the other side of town, Seymour spoke to about 50 local government and school officials in Glendale after a group of Armenian schoolchildren were led in a chant of, "Senator Seymour, Senator Seymour."
Seymour criticized Feinstein for appealing for votes on the basis of gender. He said Feinstein wants to increase government spending--and that should weigh more heavily in voters' minds.
"I think more women should be elected at every level of government," he said, getting applause from the audience of city officials, a number of whom were women. "But let me tell you that we don't need women elected to the U.S. Senate, or men for that fact, who want to raise taxes. We need women and men elected to the U.S. Senate who want to cut taxes and control spending."
Boxer, speaking to about 400 college students crowded into an auditorium at San Francisco State University, urged young voters to become politically active in the next few days. She said college-age people are the "secret weapon" she needs to win the race.
"The polls are telling you the race is tightening," said Boxer, who was flanked by comedian Chevy Chase and actress Dana Delaney. "It is."
Herschensohn, capping a three-day, 14-city tour of the state, spoke to an afternoon gathering of College Republicans at UC Berkeley. Introduced as a man with "a lot of courage" to meet with the mostly liberal student body, Herschensohn sparred with a few shouting protesters but otherwise handled the crowd of 350 students--many of them hostile to his views--with calm and a wide smile.
About half of those in the crowd raised their arms in a mock Nazi salute when Herschensohn entered the auditorium, and many of them blew up balloons saying "Stop the Lies," and "Bruce Pollution."
By far the most bizarre sideshow in the long day of campaigning involved Herschensohn's encounter in Chico.
Herschensohn had finished a speech to a group of supporters at the Chico City Hall and answered questions for about 20 minutes. As the event was winding down, Mulholland marched down a center aisle of the auditorium, waving a huge picture of the exterior of the Seventh Veil club.