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House Newcomer to Seek Feinstein's Senate Seat

September 15, 1993|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just eight months after taking office following a record-breaking $5.4-million campaign, Rep. Michael R. Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) announced on Tuesday that he will try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in next year's election.

Huffington, the millionaire son of a former Houston oilman who last year financed most of his own campaign to oust a veteran incumbent Republican, said his decision was prompted by Feinstein's support for the tax increase in President Clinton's budget.

"This is not a deficit-reduction plan, it's a job-reduction plan," Huffington said at a Century City news conference, flanked by about two dozen supporters. "Someone's got to stop that senator before she taxes again."

Huffington said he began receiving calls asking him to enter the race barely a month after he was sworn into office last January. He said he rejected that idea until after the budget vote in June.

"I'm not bored with the House, nor am I frustrated," he said. "I think I can do a far better job for my district and for this state in the Senate."

Huffington said he is willing to back up his Senate campaign with money from his own pocket, leading state Republican leaders to dub him an instant contender for the GOP nomination despite his lack of tenure in political office. If he wins the nomination, the race is likely to cost more than $20 million.

Huffington, whose 1992 campaign was likened to Ross Perot's self-financed bid for the presidency, said he expects to raise a substantial part of his campaign bankroll, but he declined to estimate how much of his own money he will spend.

"Clearly I'm not going to spend only my own money," he said.

His 15-minute news conference preceded a dinner at which keynote speaker Ronald Reagan helped raise more than $650,000 for the state Republican Party from some of California's biggest GOP contributors.

Huffington became the second Republican to announce a challenge to Feinstein, who is considered to be in good political health and a strong candidate for reelection. Feinstein won last year to fill a two-year Senate vacancy left by Pete Wilson's election to governor in 1990. Her 1994 reelection bid is for a full six-year term.

Former Orange County congressman William E. Dannemeyer, who lost a Republican Senate bid in 1992, is running a second campaign next year. And Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) is expected to announce his candidacy soon.

Cox, who served as a general counsel in the Reagan White House, tried Tuesday to link Feinstein and Huffington as a pair of millionaire candidates who have distorted the political process with their money.

"This looks like the ultimate consequence of our freakish federal campaign finance laws," he said. "The battle of the plutocrats."

Kam Kuwata, Feinstein's top staff member, dismissed Huffington's candidacy.

"Here's a guy who comes to Congress, and his first major action is to say: 'I want out. I want to run for the Senate.' What has he done?" Kuwata said.

Huffington, 46, is the son of Roy Huffington, a major Republican contributor who was appointed by former President Bush in 1990 to serve as ambassador to Austria. Michael Huffington was himself appointed by former President Reagan in 1986 for a brief term as deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiation policy.

The candidate has also worked as a banker and venture capitalist in the family business and started a documentary film company. His wife--who is known under her maiden name, Arianna Stassinopoloulos--is a prominent socialite and respected author.

Huffington, whose congressional district stretches from Santa Barbara north to San Luis Obispo, is considered a political moderate because of his support for gay rights and abortion rights. He was also one of only two Republicans in the California delegation to support President Clinton's Family Leave Act in January.

Huffington voted against the President's proposed stimulus package and the deficit reduction plan. He is also a proponent of term limits and campaign reforms, including the elimination of political action committees.

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