RIVERSIDE — Some like their politics nasty. But the candidates in the 43rd Congressional District clearly prefer theirs nice. In an election year dominated by ruthless character assaults, the match between Mark Takano and Ken Calvert has been remarkably mud-free--a gentlemanly duel of good manners and cheerful disagreements over the issues.
Such politeness suits voters in this newly created district just fine: With two regional Air Force bases closing, the construction and aerospace industries ailing and unemployment at 12%, residents say they have little patience for petty political tiffs.
Well aware of voters' preoccupation with the economy, each of the contenders in this western Riverside County race has sought to sell himself as the wise choice for these recessionary times.
Republican Calvert, who owns a commercial real estate company, argues that he has the experience and business savvy to help California bust out of its lingering slump. His menu includes the standard GOP fare--fewer government regulations on business, a capital gains tax cut and a hearty helping of investment tax credits--as well as a freeze on federal employees' wages and a 50% cut in foreign aid.
Takano, the Democrat, has mailed voters a 24-page treatise outlining his ideas for an economic revival. A ninth-grade teacher, he advocates tax credits for industries that provide job training, a $65-billion defense cut over five years, a targeted capital gains tax cut, and a 3% income tax hike for those earning more than $200,000.
Calvert, 39, is the scion of a Riverside County family that has long been active in Republican politics--and he is the undisputed favorite in the race. A 1982 candidate for Congress against Rep. Al McCandless (R-Bermuda Dunes), he has spent the last decade sewing up support within the region's civic and business establishments.
Takano, 31, was initially viewed as a bright, able candidate with scarcely a shred of hope for victory. The district is rock-solid Republican territory--President Bush won 59% of the vote here in 1988 and the GOP has a 46% edge to the Democrats' 42%. Although Takano is a Riverside native, he cannot match his opponent's extensive political connections.
Calvert, however, was forced to spend $200,000 and a lot of energy to beat six challengers in the bruising Republican primary. He has raised another $124,000 since then, but some observers say his campaign has been lackluster. Calvert disputes that description, insisting that he is "determined not to get overconfident or complacent."
Takano, meanwhile, is by all accounts an indefatigable candidate--even addressing high school classes in the hopes of capturing volunteers and support from the few students old enough to vote. Although lagging behind Calvert in fund raising, he has done better than expected because of help from Asian-Americans, including Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento).
The Democrat also has shown some campaign savvy by painting the race as a choice between "a teacher who has spent five years serving children and a developer who spent the '80s making millions of dollars." Takano believes this strategy will tap the slow-growth sentiment in the region; Calvert predicts it will backfire because of voters' uneasiness about the stalled economy.
Takano could benefit from one other asset--a moderately high profile stemming from his role as president of the Riverside Community College board.
"I think initially people viewed this race as a walkaway for Ken Calvert, a person who clearly has paid his political dues," said Ron Loveridge, a Riverside city councilman and political science professor. "But Takano is an ambitious, smart Harvard graduate and he has worked very hard. He's managed to make this race quite close."
The 43rd District stretches from Riverside through Corona and south to Murrieta. Previously, most of its territory was represented by McCandless, a Republican, and Democratic Rep. George Brown Jr.
43rd Congressional District