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California Elections / STATE OFFICES : Lungren, Fong Buoyed by GOP 'Tidal Wave' : Republicans lead in all but one partisan contest, in which Controller Gray Davis claims victory in race for lieutenant governor. Quackenbush, Jones, McClintock slightly ahead

November 09, 1994|PAUL JACOBS and JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Republican tidal wave sweeping across the nation spared at least one Democrat in partisan statewide races in California, although others were locked in contests too close to call late Tuesday.

The only Democrat able to claim victory based on partial returns was state Controller Gray Davis in his race for lieutenant governor against state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley).

However, acting Secretary of State Tony Miller, a Democrat, was just points behind Republican Assemblyman Bill Jones in his race to retain that office. Democratic businesswoman Kathleen Connell was closing in on former GOP Assemblyman Tom McClintock, the early leader in the race for controller.

Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren easily succeeded in his bid for reelection over his Democratic challenger, Assemblyman Tom Umberg of Garden Grove.

Among other Republicans riding the tide were Matt Fong, who held a firm lead over former state Democratic Party chairman Phil Angelides in incomplete results for treasurer, and Assemblyman Charles W. Quackenbush of Cupertino, who was leading state Sen. Art Torres of Los Angeles in the race for insurance commissioner.

In the lone nonpartisan race, Democrat Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin of Fremont held a commanding lead over Maureen DiMarco, a Democrat working as Republican Pete Wilson's secretary of child development and education and who had the backing of her boss.

The attorney general's race was a particularly vitriolic contest between Lungren, the conservative crown prince of California Republican politics, and Umberg, a champion of the new Democrats out to prove he could be even tougher on crime than the GOP incumbent.

Umberg did not immediately concede defeat but acknowledged that there "is a tidal wave out there against the Democrats and the wave is crashing."

Lungren attributed his victory in part to voters' revulsion over a television commercial in which his opponent attempted to link the murder of Polly Klaas to the attorney general's failure to adopt a computerized system for tracking parolees.

In a speech to supporters in Los Angeles, the attorney general called the Klaas commercial "the single worst campaign ad this season and some say of any season . . . I wanted to rely on the intelligence of the people of California to reject it. And they did."

His bid for statewide office lost, Umberg was assigning his defeat to the juggernaut that rolled over Democrats throughout California and the nation.

"The wave was out there building against the Democrats, and it came crashing down," Umberg said from his election-night headquarters at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers hotel.

The former prosecutor, referring to the controversial Klass campaign adverstisements attacking the incumbent, said he didn't know whether he should have run the race any differently.

"We had to make a big splash," Umberg said of his unsuccessful media strategy.

Lungren went into the race with a decided edge in crime-fighting machismo. He was the attorney general who had frantically beaten back last-minute appeals intended to stop the execution of murderer Robert Alton Harris--the first person killed in the San Quentin gas chamber in 25 years.

As the underdog, Umberg, a former prosecutor, gambled on the television ad that attempted to do what might have seemed impossible before the race--tag his opponent as soft on crime. Lungren denounced the commercial as flat-out wrong, even before it began running. Later, he criticized Umberg for taking more than $800,000 in campaign contributions from Indian tribes that were battling the attorney general over reservation gambling.

Among other statewide races, seasoned campaigner and fund-raiser Davis clashed for lieutenant governor with little-known and poorly funded Wright. In sharp contrast to Wright, Davis is a known quantity to the state's voters. He was Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.'s chief of staff and an assemblyman before being twice elected controller.

Speaking of his fellow Democrats, Davis said: "We have to look in the mirror and understand the need for public safety" and a good business climate in the state.

In her campaign, Wright tried to raise ethical questions, issuing a booklet titled "Gray's Anatomy" that resurrected charges that Davis had used state resources to help in a political campaign. But with a commanding lead in public opinion polls, Davis generally took the high road, emphasizing his role, for example, in persuading Taco Bell Corp. to stay in California.

Staunch conservative Wright was elected to the state Senate two years ago after a 12-year career in the Assembly. She is a former mayor of Simi Valley and was making her first bid for statewide office.

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