SACRAMENTO — Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren took the unusual step Monday of denouncing his Democratic opponent for a campaign commercial that has yet to run, saying the advertisement wrongly depicts him as bearing some responsibility for the death of murder-kidnaping victim Polly Klaas.
Flanked at a news conference by more than a dozen crime victims, Lungren demanded that Democrat Tom Umberg "pull the plug" on the commercial before it airs.
"I want the people of California to know just how desperate Tom Umberg is and just how lacking in character and principle he is to ever concoct and air such an ad," Lungren said, adding that the commercial "tramples" on crime victims in California and will establish Umberg as "the sleaziest" politician in the state's history.
George Urch, Umberg's campaign manager, would not disclose the content of the television ads but said they would be "100% factual."
Lungren said he learned of the advertisement, which is expected to begin airing today, through sources in the news media. Officials with his campaign said the advertisement features Joe Klaas, grandfather of the young Northern California girl whose kidnaping and murder attracted national attention and helped propel a rash of anti-crime legislation.
The commercial, they said, echoes charges voiced repeatedly by Umberg--that Lungren slashed staffing for a statewide computer database that could have helped officers apprehend Richard Allen Davis, the repeat felon charged with the girl's murder.
Davis was questioned briefly the night of the abduction by sheriff's deputies who were unaware of the kidnaping. After his arrest, Davis told law enforcement officials that the girl was alive when he talked with the deputies.
Lungren's campaign team said the Umberg advertisement concludes with a shot of Klaas in a T-shirt reading: "Remember Polly. Dump Lungren."
The elder Klaas, reached by phone at his home in Carmel, confirmed that he voluntarily participated in such a commercial, which was shot at the memorial site established for the slain 12-year-old.
Klaas, a Democrat, said in an interview that if Lungren had funded the computer database, "it might have made a big difference and might have saved Polly's life. That's inexcusable to me."
He also said that besides Lungren, Gov. Pete Wilson and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Huffington "abused Polly's memory and exploited my family" by using the kidnaping and slaying to push the "three strikes" anti-crime law and their own political careers.
Lungren, however, maintained that Umberg was misleading the Klaas family. He said that Davis' criminal history was available to the law officers who stopped him, but that the deputies did not have probable cause to check the system, which handles 4.2 million criminal-record inquiries a month. If they had, the record would have shown Davis' prior arrests and convictions, including one for kidnaping, Lungren said.
He said Umberg's ad exploits the death of a little girl.