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Checchi, Davis Appeal for Latino Vote

Democratic candidates, addressing Mexican American Political Assn., accuse Wilson of fueling racial tension.


Businessman Al Checchi hired a mariachi band and Lt. Gov. Gray Davis practiced his Spanish on Saturday as two of the Democratic candidates for governor focused their attention on the state's Latino voters.

The two candidates showed little difference in their opinions about issues important to the Latino community. But they both showcased liberal platforms on race that contrasted sharply with recent Republican campaign themes.

Davis and Checchi accused Gov. Pete Wilson of fueling racial tension by promoting a pair of successful ballot measures to end affirmative action in government and halt most public services for illegal immigrants.

"I am tired of Gov. Wilson and his wedge issue politics," Davis said to about 300 delegates of the Mexican American Political Assn. in Los Angeles.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), the only other major Democratic candidate in the governor's race, did not attend the meeting Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. A spokesman said Harman was in Washington and unable to attend because of a family function.

Each of the three candidates has won endorsements from prominent Latino political leaders. And in an unprecedented appeal, all three Democrats are broadcasting or preparing Spanish-language campaign television commercials. Of the three, however, Checchi has made the strongest pitch to Latino voters, largely by spending some of his personal fortune on an aggressive advertising and outreach effort.

"Who is voting for me in huge numbers?" Checchi asked the audience. "The young, the poor, the ones with less education and ethnic Latino and African Americans. I am proud of that. Those are the people who made up Bobby Kennedy's vote."

As he has before, Davis highlighted his 23 years of experience in government as evidence that he is the candidate best prepared to be governor. This time, however, Davis took the unusual step of emphasizing his role as chief of staff for former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.

In previous campaigns, Davis has been attacked for his association with the liberal ex-governor. But on Saturday, Davis proudly recalled his work in helping farm workers win collective bargaining rights and making a record number of minority and women appointments to government office.

Republican Dan Lungren, meanwhile, joined Checchi and Harman by launching his first round of 30-second spots Saturday night. Davis is planning to start his TV advertising Monday.

Lungren, running without serious opposition in the June 2 primary, began airing two spots. The first consists of a biography, emphasizing his Long Beach roots and featuring his wife and three adult children. The second claims credit for helping reduce the state's crime rate to its lowest level in 30 years. Both spots advertise Lungren as the Republican candidate for governor, a not insignificant detail given California's new blanket primary, which allows voters to cross party lines.

Times political writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this story.

* INSURANCE COMMISSIONER RACE: Democratic candidates campaign in Los Angeles area, staking out positions left of the incumbent. B3

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