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Decision '94 / SPECIAL GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA'S ELECTIONS : Truth or Fiction

October 30, 1994|ALLAN HOFFENBLUM and DARRY SGRAGOW | Hoffenblum, a Republican, has owned and run his Los Angeles political consulting firm since 1979, working for a variety of federal, state and local candidates. A former Air Force intelligence officer who served in Vietnam, Hoffenblum worked to reelect President Richard Nixon in 1972. He is a graduate of USC.; Sragow has been working for Democratic candidates since 1972. A former Navy lieutenant, Sragow ran Sen. Alan Cranston's reelection campaign in 1986, worked for Dianne Feinstein's gubernatorial campaign in 1990 and most recently managed John Garamendi's bid for governor this year. Sragow is an attorney and graduate of Cornell and Georgetown universities

"Any charge that pops up late (in a campaign) and is particularly personal or outrageous is indeed suspect." --Sagrow

"More often than not, the opinion as to whether something is true or false . . . is based on which candidate is being gored." --Hoffenblum

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Allan Hoffenblum and Darry Sragow are longtime California political consultants. That means they know by trade all the tricks of political persuasion at election time. The Times asked Hoffenblum, who works for Republicans, and Sragow, who works for Democrats, to warn us about what voters should watch for as the election approaches.

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HOFFENBLUM: OK, Darry, it's 10 days before the election and the candidates' campaign managers and media advisers are looking at polling data indicating they are behind. It is desperation time. Can voters expect to see a barrage of last-minute deceptive advertising?

SRAGOW: I don't know about you, Allan, but none of my candidates would engage in those tactics. But I do warn them to expect it from the Republicans.

HOFFENBLUM: Come on, one's party affiliation doesn't determine one's ethics. And more often than not, the opinion as to whether something is true or false, right or wrong, is based on which candidate is being gored . . . yours or your opponent.

SRAGOW: The most common trick is to take one teeny piece of information about an opponent and totally distort it.

HOFFENBLUM: You mean the half-truth.

SRAGOW: I'm not even getting to the "half" truth yet. One typical Republican ploy is to create a new organization that issues ratings of officeholders. The statement that the "National Taxpayers Alliance" says my Democratic candidate has an 8 rating out of 100 in cutting spending may well raise questions in the minds of the voters, yet the National Taxpayers Alliance may be the creation of a Republican political consultant who computes ratings that are totally misleading.

HOFFENBLUM: OK. But I've seen campaigns where the Democrat consultant just turns around and creates his or her own phony group to do the same thing. The biggest problem we Republicans have is that several organizations that purport to be nonpartisan are actually run by partisan Democrats who tout the liberal agenda and are able and willing to send out mailers that often totally distort the record of the Republican incumbent or candidate. Environmentalists and education groups are the worst offenders.

SRAGOW: So what you're saying is that groups that endorse Democrats have a bias. I'm saying that a lot of Republican endorsement groups don't even exist.

HOFFENBLUM: Just because the message comes from a real group, or even a well-known person, doesn't mean the facts are truthful, especially when it arrives at the last minute. Let me give you an example.

A few years back, I was managing a tough campaign for the state Assembly, and just days before the election, a vote-gram arrived in the mailboxes of voters over the age of 60, attacking my candidate. Now this is an important group. The vote-gram was supposedly signed by Claude Pepper, who was a highly influential member of Congress noted for supporting issues important to seniors. One week after the election, we discovered that Mr. Pepper knew nothing about the mailer. We lost that election.

SRAGOW: Earlier this year, I was the consultant to a strongly pro-environment legislative candidate who was challenging a longtime incumbent with a record on the environment that was worse than Exxon's. My candidate was a member of the Sierra Club, and was strongly endorsed by the club. In the closing days of the race, the incumbent dropped a piece of mail implying that he was endorsed by the Sierra Club. That false statement clearly hurt the challenger in strongly pro-environment coastal precincts.

HOFFENBLUM: I can top that. I remember being involved in a tough Republican primary, and again, in the closing days of the election, my candidate's opponent sent out a mailer which loudly proclaimed on the face of the envelope "Reagan Endorsement Enclosed." If the voter bothered to open the envelope to read the message, they would have found out that it was the local candidate who had endorsed Ronald Reagan, not the other way around.

SRAGOW: An incumbent's votes on specific bills are fertile ground for deception. Particularly in Congress, votes are cast on very complex bills. Take, for example, aid to Israel. An up-or-down vote on aid to Israel is highly unusual. Those funds are one line in huge, multibillion-dollar, multipurpose bills. A member of Congress who votes against the entire bill could be accused of voting against Israel, even though aid to Israel is a very small piece of the bill, and the member's reason may having nothing to do with Israel.

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