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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Feinstein Airs Sequel to Dramatic Commercial : Her announcement of 1978 San Francisco slayings was used in a 1990 ad credited with helping her win the Democratic nomination for governor. It seeks to show leadership and an anti-crime stance.

August 24, 1994|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For political insiders, the new campaign commercial Sen. Dianne Feinstein began broadcasting Tuesday is likely to be called "Son of Grabber."

It contains 10 of the most dramatic seconds ever seen in a campaign ad, showing Feinstein at an emotional news conference shortly after the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Dubbed "The Grabber" when it was first broadcast during Feinstein's 1990 race for governor, the spot found a permanent place in California political lore when it triggered a dramatic shift in which Feinstein's stumbling campaign leapfrogged over two leading Democratic opponents and won the party's nomination.

"Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot . . . and killed," Feinstein announces to a bank of jostling television cameras outside the mayor's office. On the tape, there are loud groans and a woman's screams.

The opening scene is the only segment of the 1990 commercial that voters will see in the new ad for Feinstein's campaign against Republican challenger Mike Huffington. But the themes of the two spots are also similar--an attempt to cast Feinstein as a tough and capable leader who not only fights against violence, but has experienced it.

Darry Sragow, the campaign manager who ran the "Grabber" spot in 1990, said its original purpose was to introduce Feinstein to a state that already knew parts of her story. By highlighting her support for the death penalty, it also sought to underscore her image as a moderate Democrat for many voters who assumed a woman Democrat from San Francisco was liberal.

Feinstein's new Senate ad also attempts to establish her foothold in the middle of the political spectrum by calling attention to her differences with the Democratic Party at the same time it highlights her work with Republicans on crime issues.

"She knows the tragedy of violence," a narrator says. "For 21 years, she's been a strong, sometimes lonely voice for the death penalty in the Democratic Party.

"In the Senate, she won Republican votes to ban assault weapons, wrote the law to expel any student who brings a gun to school, fought for the toughest anti-crime package ever to put more cops on our streets."

The anti-crime package refers to a sweeping bill that is pending in the Senate and is at the center of a major showdown between President Clinton and Republicans.

Sragow, who is not working for Feinstein this year, predicted that political insiders might be critical of Feinstein's rerun of a commercial from a previous campaign. But he said the ad should be effective because the themes of anti-crime and leadership are germane to the Senate race.

Huffington's campaign was sharply critical of the new ad. The Republican campaign has repeatedly cast Feinstein as a liberal. Huffington said Tuesday that the new commercial is another attempt to mislead voters about Feinstein's political philosophy.

"Mrs. Feinstein is trying to cloak her liberal record in conservative rhetoric, but the facts speak for themselves," said Huffington, who is heading to Hawaii with his family this week for a brief vacation.

Huffington cited Feinstein's decisions between 1960 and 1966 as a member of the California State Parole Board to grant releases to a number of violent criminals. He also noted that Feinstein previously opposed the death penalty. The senator said she changed her mind in 1973, when she served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Feinstein released a second new ad Tuesday in which she expresses concern for the fears of working families over taxes, safety and education. It notes her support for the balanced budget amendment and her vote for Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction package.

Huffington countered Tuesday that Feinstein "is one of the biggest taxers and biggest spenders ever in the U.S. Senate."

Like the "Grabber" spot, the second new ad also calls attention to her support of elements in the anti-crime package.

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