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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Huffington Says Critics Fear His 'Boat Rocking'


SAN FRANCISCO — Seeking to carve out his political identity, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington characterized himself Tuesday as a "risk taker" and a "boat rocker" who is under attack because he is challenging the Washington political Establishment.

Relying on a fistful of GOP buzzwords and likening himself at one point to another conservative outsider--Ronald Reagan--the congressman from Santa Barbara called on Californians to "welcome God back into our public lives and into our public square."

In a speech to the Commonwealth Club billed as a major policy address, Huffington cast himself as citizen-politician whose ideas threaten the nation's Democratic leaders.

"I am a businessman who wants to get government out of the way so that we can unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. . . ," he said. "By questioning the myths of the dominant liberal culture upon which politics as usual is founded, I have drawn a line in the sand of time, and they are afraid of being found out, stranded standing on the wrong side of history."

While seeking to tap into this year's deep current of voter frustration, Huffington offered few concrete proposals for change. And he ducked several questions from the audience, including where he stands on Proposition 187, the controversial anti-illegal immigrant measure on the state ballot.

Asked about it, Huffington seemed unfamiliar with Proposition 187 and briefly stumbled in his answer. "I have not yet made a public stand on 170--er, what was that? 187? As you can tell," he said as members of the audience called out the correct name. ". . . I'll look at all the initiatives before the end of the election campaign and take a public stance on one or two of them."

Huffington, who has campaigned largely through television commercials, made his appearance before the Commonwealth Club at a crucial time for his campaign. He has campaigned to near even with his rival, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But over the past two weeks, he has faced more intensive press scrutiny and has been criticized over the campaign role of his wife, Arianna Huffington, a onetime minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, a controversial religious group.

On Saturday, Feinstein secured passage of a landmark bill protecting nearly 8 million acres of California's desert.

In his address, Huffington joked about the claims that his wife dominates his campaign, saying: "I want to dispel any notion that she's the driving force behind this campaign, a point I will make many times in this speech that she wrote for me."

After the speech, Arianna Huffington stood by as her husband answered questions from reporters, but the couple abruptly left when the questioning turned to her role in the campaign.

In answering questions from Commonwealth Club members, Huffington criticized Feinstein's desert bill, saying it was amended to include the creation of a jazz park in New Orleans "at the eleventh hour" because Feinstein was "desperate" to win passage.

"This bill exemplifies what's wrong with government and the special interests and career politicians," Huffington said. "The California Desert Protection Bill was supposed to be about protecting the California desert."

However, Feinstein campaign manager Kam Kuwata said that in fact the jazz park amendment was approved last April, and was not any part of a deal to get the bill passed at the last minute.

"The implication that she traded votes is totally wrong," Kuwata said. "Dianne Feinstein doesn't trade votes. This is a bill that's going to protect some very important land in California. I realize it's a huge embarrassment (for Huffington) because he campaigns on the theme one person can't make a difference."

The Feinstein campaign also contested Huffington's characterization of himself as a man who takes risks and poses a threat to the Establishment.

"Where has he rocked the boat?" Kuwata said. "Where has he taken a risk? Fundamentally, what Congressman Huffington has done is say, 'I'm going to vote against everything.' I characterize him as a fraud because he claims to have done things he hasn't done."

Political Scorecard

27 days to go before Californians go to the polls


* What Happened Tuesday: The campaign of Democrat Kathleen Brown accused Republican Gov. Pete Wilson of neglecting the state's highway and transportation system. Wilson received the endorsement of Northern California law enforcement groups at Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento.

* What's Ahead: Wilson will kick off Fire Prevention Week, and receive the endorsement of California firefighters associations during an appearance at the Burbank Fire Training Center. Brown's schedule was uncertain.


* What Happened Tuesday: Sen. Dianne Feinstein attended a luncheon in Santa Rosa. Rep. Mike Huffington addressed the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and was to attend a private fund-raising dinner in Los Angeles.

* What's Ahead: Huffington was planning to deliver a luncheon address to the Orange County Forum in Newport Beach. Feinstein was to meet in Oakland with residents who lost their homes in the 1991 fire, followed by lunch with supporters in Oakland.


"So what my campaign is about is . . . a new vision of how politics could, and should, work in America. My opponent says I have no ideas, but the truth is that my ideas are beyond the horizon of her world view."

--Huffington in address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.


Huffington said his debate with Feinstein on "Larry King Live" on the Cable News Network last week performed a great public service for CNN viewers. Not by illuminating the Senate race, but, Huffington said, "for the first time since June, we caused Larry to preempt O.J. Simpson coverage."

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