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Elections '96: A Voter Handbook | The Fight for Calfiornia:
Candidates for president, the Congress and the Legislature
are among those fighting for your attention and your
vote Tuesday. A look at the combatants.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY : Despite Garcetti's Wide Funding Edge, Analysts Find Race Tough to Call

Challenger John Lynch has focused on failed prosecution of Simpson case. Incumbent has launched a highly critical TV blitz.

November 03, 1996|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When political analysts turn to the race for district attorney, the marquee local contest on Tuesday's ballot and the only countywide post up for grabs, two contrasting views quickly emerge.

Either John Lynch, who is challenging incumbent Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, can't lose.

Or, they say, Lynch can't win.

The reason for the confusion, observers said, is that in many ways Garcetti ran throughout the long campaign against himself. Until two weeks ago, when Garcetti launched a television advertising blitz highly critical of Lynch, the focus of the campaign had been almost entirely on Garcetti--primarily the failed prosecution of the O.J. Simpson case and, to a lesser degree, the incumbent's enormous campaign war chest.

And no one can confidently predict what impact those two factors will have on the race.

"I have never seen an election that so closely resembles a crapshoot," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, the veteran political analyst at the Claremont Graduate School.

Lynch, 50, a political newcomer who heads the district attorney's branch office in Norwalk, emerged from a pack of five challengers in the March primary with 21% of the vote, forcing a runoff with Garcetti, who won the primary with 37%.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 4, 1996 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times reported incorrectly Sunday that John Lynch, who is challenging incumbent Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, had raised $47,462 by Sept. 30. That was the total Lynch's campaign had in the bank. The overall amount raised was higher.

Throughout the summer and fall, the Lynch campaign has argued that the Simpson case provided a window into Garcetti's management style. Lynch says that style is flawed.

Lynch has been critical of tactical decisions in the case, such as moving it downtown from Santa Monica. He has been particularly critical of appearances Garcetti made on television shortly after Simpson was arrested, saying such appearances are ethically inappropriate for a prosecutor.

If elected, Lynch vows not to comment on pending cases. He says in a television ad that it's the job of the prosecution to win "in the courtroom, not in the pressroom."

That ad, meanwhile, encapsulates the full experience of the Lynch campaign: It's about Simpson. The ad didn't cost much to make, only $3,500. And it's not clear that the underfunded campaign can afford to keep it on the air through Tuesday.

According to county disclosure forms, Lynch had raised only $47,462 by Sept. 30. Garcetti had 15 times more money in the bank, $714,460.

Campaign manager Rick Taylor said late last week that he probably would have to pull the ad during the weekend because of financial concerns. He vowed it would be "back on [TV] on Monday."

"It's challenging," Taylor said, "because we don't have the obscene amounts that they have."

Garcetti campaign manager Matt Middlebrook said there's nothing obscene about it. Instead, he said, Garcetti's fund-raising abilities speak to the confidence voters have in the incumbent.

And Lynch's bank account, Middlebrook said, speaks volumes about the challenger.

"John Lynch has run an incredibly arrogant, poor campaign," Middlebrook said.

He added: "People came into this race with the premise that it was Gil vs. what happened in the Simpson case. It could have been Gil vs. that and a credible opponent. John did not make himself a credible opponent."

The Simpson case aside, Middlebrook said, Garcetti has in fact won headline-grabbing cases. Last week alone, he noted, prosecutors convicted Charles Rathbun of first-degree murder and jurors recommended the death penalty for three men who killed trick-or-treaters in Pasadena in 1993.

On the campaign trail, Garcetti has asked voters to look beyond "one case" and focus on the primary difference between himself and Lynch. Garcetti believes the elected district attorney must be an activist in the area of crime prevention and touts initiatives to combat gang activity and domestic violence. Lynch does not believe the job calls for such activism.

Most important, Garcetti amassed a stash of cash. That enabled him to buy a ballot statement--Lynch did not buy one--and to fund the TV blitz, putting an ad describing Lynch as "too risky to be D.A." on the air with increasing frequency.

The ad, however, has itself proven controversial. It criticizes Lynch for, among other things, his supervisory role in the second McMartin Preschool trial in 1990, saying he offered a secret plea bargain and then lied about it--charges Lynch denies but the Garcetti campaign stands by.

Political analysts have puzzled over the ad's sharp tone and the unflattering photograph of Lynch, an X-ray of sorts, that provides the dominant visual image.

"What reason," wondered Dick Rosengarten, editor of California Political Week, "does [Garcetti] have to go so negative?"

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