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Huffington Renews Political Attacks : Campaign: In Newport Beach speech, Senate candidate goes on offensive. He also defends his legislative record and deflects questions about role of family business in pollution at oil refinery.


NEWPORT BEACH — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Huffington preached more family values, less government and repeatedly assailed opponent Sen. Dianne Feinstein's record during a luncheon address Thursday at the Le Meridian Newport Beach Hotel.

Before a mostly partisan crowd of about 500 people, Huffington said he sees his campaign as "an opportunity to send shock waves not only through California but across America."

In answer to a question from the audience, he vowed to announce his position on Proposition 187-- the anti-illegal immigrant initiative, before Election Day.

Flanked by his wife, Arianna, and their two daughters, the Santa Barbara congressman also said the breakdown in the family is the root of many of the country's ills, from crime to teen-age pregnancy to low SAT scores.

"If we're going to turn this country around, we can't depend on the U.S. government," he said. "It comes back to us. To our children and teaching them the virtues and values that we grew up with."

Huffington called for abolishing the current welfare system, contending that money for the poor should be allocated by local governments using funds made available from Washington through community block grants.

"I know the old system doesn't work," said Huffington, who also said he supports giving a bigger tax break for charitable contributions.

A large portion of Huffington's speech, however, focused on Democrat Feinstein, who is battling him in a close contest for the Senate seat. Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992 to complete the truncated term of Pete Wilson, who resigned to become governor.

Huffington accused Feinstein of flip-flopping on several issues, including the death penalty and health care reform, and criticized her for voting against the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying she was swayed by contributions from labor unions, which opposed the treaty.

"She had $3 million worth of reasons for voting against it," he said. "That's why I don't take Political Action Committee money."

He also blasted Feinstein for supporting cuts in the nation's defense budget, which he said has resulted in the loss of 179,000 jobs in California and caused low morale in the military.

"The first priority of the United States government should be the defense of the United States," he said, "We have a President and two senators who don't agree."

Huffington said he would support cuts of up to $60 billion in the defense budget and said Feinstein favored $135 billion in cuts.


Feinstein campaign spokesman Bill Chandler responded by accusing Huffington of sour grapes and said the senator is a staunch supporter of the state's defense industry.

"He simply hasn't told the truth about his own record or Sen. Feinstein's record," Chandler said. "It will be interesting when he puts aside the cue cards and speaks from the heart. It will be interesting to see if he has anything to say. Right now, all he is doing is trying to trash his opponent and her record without providing a vision for California."

During the question-answer session, Huffington was asked about Proposition 187, which would deny social services, education and all but emergency health care to illegal immigrants.

"I'm for immigration, but legal immigration," he said. "My wife had to wait five years to become legal. People should go through the process."

Huffington grew testy when asked about his own legislative record. He attributed his inability to get legislation passed to the Democrats' control of Congress.

"Let me give a short course in Government 101," he said. "The Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House. The deck is totally stacked against us."

On his way both in and out of the hotel appearance, reporters asked Huffington about a report in Thursday's Times disclosing that his family's company had owned a 20% stake during the 1980s in a Paramount refinery that left behind a trail of environmental damage. Pollutants have spread into local ground water and soil, and it may now cost millions of dollars to clean up.

"We were a minority shareholder and had no management role whatsoever," Huffington said, charging that the Feinstein camp aims to create a shadow issue out of the refinery.

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