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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Candidates Focus on Immigration and Clinton : Brown seeks boost from President, while Wilson scoffs at him. Experts are aghast that Democrat's campaign had to cancel almost all weekend TV ads.

November 06, 1994|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Democrat Kathleen Brown, her campaign in the unprecedented position of having virtually no advertising presence on major California airwaves the weekend before the election, leaned Saturday on President Clinton to help turn out loyal Democratic voters who she believes could give her a chance to overtake incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson.

Wilson, the target of Brown's and Clinton's gibes throughout the day, barnstormed in relative splendor through the Central Valley with other members of the Republican ticket, his campaign increasingly confident of victory.

In public, both candidates' message Saturday could be whittled down to two spare topics: Clinton and immigration. Brown and Wilson, on opposing sides of the controversial Proposition 187 and in their views of Clinton, used both subjects in their efforts to gain last-minute votes.

State Treasurer Brown pleaded with 5,000 Democrats at a Clinton rally in Oakland to turn aside Wilson and the initiative that would deny public education and non-emergency services to illegal immigrants.

"We have an opportunity on Nov. 8 to send a message not just to those in California who are watching, but across this land," Brown said, echoing Clinton's theme.

The Republican governor decried Brown's views and suggested that the President butt out of California political affairs.

"We don't need Bill Clinton . . . or anyone else to tell us how to vote," he said. "We are going to take matters into our own hands."

In private, however, the focus was on Brown's meager finances. A lack of money forced her campaign to cancel almost all of the television time it had reserved for Saturday and Sunday. Isolated ads that had been bought earlier in the campaign as part of larger package deals were still running, Brown aides said.

The virtual silencing of Brown's campaign on television--the basic mode of communication in California--drew a reaction of astonishment from veteran Democratic and Republican officials. It also prompted an angry retort from a senior White House official, who said, as did the others, that Brown had violated the most important rule of campaign expenditures: Make sure to have money at the end.

"Clint Reilly (Brown's campaign manager) should be tried for malpractice," said one Clinton Administration official.

Reilly, in a telephone interview, said the campaign did not have enough money to pay for both television time and a get-out-the-vote effort that it considers crucial to Tuesday's outcome.

"If there is no money, I can't buy the time," said Reilly, who added that the campaign had been struggling to raise capital in the face of a fierce barrage of ads from Wilson.

Brown campaign officials downplayed the impact of their decision not to air ads over the weekend, saying the $150,000 or so worth of ads that would have been aired did not amount to much, given the millions of dollars the campaign has already spent.

The Brown campaign has announced that it intends to air two commercials Monday, the day before the election, which will criticize Wilson's views on immigration.

In the broader political world, the decision to forgo advertising the weekend before the election was seen as, at best, a public relations disaster. Democrats and Republicans alike said the signal it sent was that either the campaign had grossly mismanaged its resources or that Brown was unwilling to go the final mile--or into debt--on behalf of her campaign.

Normally, political veterans on both sides said, a campaign marshals its resources from Election Day backward, making sure that it has enough money left to bombard the airwaves at the end of the race when voters are paying more attention.

"You don't want to run out of money before you run out of campaign," said Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic strategist currently running Democratic Rep. Richard Lehman's reelection campaign in the San Joaquin Valley. "You have a certain obligation to the rest of the ticket, to your own supporters, to people who gave you money, who put their personal credentials on the line in the form of endorsements, and an obligation to your own career to make it clear that you fought to the bitter end."

Sragow said any difficulties on the part of the candidate at the top of the ticket can filter down to affect other races, such as his candidate's.

"We need every single vote that we can get," said Sragow, who emphasized that he was not placing blame on anyone in particular. "If in any way this demoralizes Democrats, it could indeed cost us this House seat."

Wilson campaign officials were, of course, thrilled at Brown's financial difficulties.

"It's like running in the Indy 500 and pulling up short after 498," said Larry Thomas, a senior adviser to the governor's campaign.

A senior Brown campaign official made it clear that, even if Brown had had enough money to buy ads over the weekend, the effort would have been fairly small.

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