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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Wilson Holds Fund-Raising Lead Over Brown : Incumbent collects $23 million overall to challenger's $18 million. With five weeks to go, race is expected to break campaign record set in 1990.


SACRAMENTO — In what is heading toward the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in California history, Gov. Pete Wilson's campaign committee Wednesday reported collecting $7.8 million for his reelection campaign over the past three months while his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, took in $5.5 million.

The money collected to date by the two campaigns is even more staggering: almost $23 million for Wilson since January, 1993, compared to $18 million for Brown.

Their combined total of $41 million with a heavy month of fund raising still to be reported is within easy reach of the record $43 million raised by Wilson and Dianne Feinstein in their record-setting 1990 campaign for governor.

The campaign reports are bad news for Brown, who trails Wilson not only in raising money but in most public opinion polls. Wilson ended the reporting period with $2.3 million on hand compared to $780,000 for Brown.

But the Brown campaign contends that in October it will raise all the money that its candidate needs to run a competitive race.

"She's just returned from Washington, D.C., and New York on an extensive fund-raising trip," said Brown campaign spokesman John Whitehurst. "We feel we are very competitive with Wilson. Traditionally, Republicans have raised more money than Democrats; incumbents have raised more than challengers, and both dynamics are at work here."

Wilson campaign press secretary Dan Schnur expressed confidence that the governor will reach his goal of raising--and spending--more than $25 million in his reelection race.

And like his challenger, the governor will continue to raise money in the weeks ahead.

"We have a fund-raising schedule in place and continue to raise money, and this will put us right on track to maintain our campaign strategy in terms of paid media and other expenses that we laid out at the outset," Schnur said.

For all statewide candidates, this is the season when money talks--where the amount of campaign cash on hand determines whether candidates for statewide office can get their messages out over the airwaves or into mailers directed at likely voters.

And it's a critical time. With less than five weeks left until Election Day, the battle of the checkbook can prove as important as the charges and countercharges made by candidates.

"There's no question that these numbers for everybody are just blowing a hole through the sky," said Steven Merksamer, who ran former Gov. George Deukmejian's first gubernatorial campaign in 1982. This is the time when candidates "must come up with the cash to hold commercials. . . . You have to put up the cash on the barrel head to keep them."

Coming up with the money is a special problem for candidates in the "down-ballot" races, many of them unknown to voters and running for offices that elicit little public interest.

With all the attention on the races for governor and U.S. Senate, other candidates with only modest amounts of cash to buy broadcast time often wonder whether they will be heard above the babble.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democratic state Controller Gray Davis has continued to outdo the fund-raising efforts of his Republican rival, state Sen. Cathie Wright of Simi Valley. Davis, a seasoned campaigner, reported raising $664,000 in the three months ending Sept. 30, compared to $206,000 for Wright. By that date, Davis' committee showed a cash balance of $1.7 million compared to Wright's $73,000.

Wright's campaign director, John Theiss, maintains that the GOP lawmaker will have enough money to battle her opponent down to the wire.

In the race for state treasurer, Democrat Phil Angelides reported raising almost $2 million over the past three months--most of it in loans--compared to $482,000 for his Republican opponent, State Board of Equalization member Matt Fong. That left Angelides well-positioned in the final weeks of the campaign, with $1.5 million on hand compared to $780,000 for Fong.

Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren reported raising $688,000 over the three months--not a great deal more than his Democratic challenger, Assemblyman Tom Umberg of Garden Grove. Lungren's campaign had $1.1 million on hand at the end of last month compared to $712,000 for Umberg.

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