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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Davis and Lungren Wasting No Time

Candidates for governor scarcely savor primary victories before launching what promises to be a tough campaign. Checchi, Harman pledge support for Democrat.

June 04, 1998|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Barely pausing to catch their breath, rivals Gray Davis and Dan Lungren caromed Wednesday into the fall campaign for governor, trading charges and throwing down challenges in what promises to be a tough fight to November.

Just 12 hours after the polls closed and Democrats made him their nominee, Lt. Gov. Davis appeared alongside his two bested rivals and took up change as his campaign mantra--specifically an end to the 16 years of GOP rule in the governor's office.

"The . . . lesson last night is that it clearly is time for a change," Davis said at a Democratic Party breakfast, citing a Times survey showing that 64% of voters are ready to switch parties at the top.

Atty. Gen. Lungren, the Republican nominee, headlined a celebratory GOP breakfast in Newport Beach, where he challenged Davis to meet in a series of one-on-one debates across the state. He further urged Davis, in an open letter, to abide by a code of good campaign conduct, to overcome voter cynicism and apathy.

"Join with me in starting another trend, for the betterment of political discourse and intelligent campaigns," Lungren wrote.

The two have instructed their staffs to meet starting Monday to discuss the possibility of a kickoff debate as early as the end of this month.

Unofficial returns showed Davis running away with the Democratic nomination. With 99.7% of precincts reporting, Davis garnered 57.6% of the Democratic vote to businessman Al Checchi's 20.9% and Rep. Jane Harman's 20.3%. On the Republican side, Lungren received 93.4% of the vote against token opposition.

Joining Davis at the Democratic unity-fest was U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who ran largely unopposed and won renomination with 92% of the vote.

Boxer was ebullient as she declared herself ready to spar with GOP nominee Matt Fong on abortion, the environment, gun control and taxes. She held aloft the American-flag boxing gloves that state party Chairman Art Torres gave her and Davis, and repeatedly called herself a "fighter."

"Why did I get more [votes] than both of my main [Republican] opponents combined?" she asked rhetorically. "I think people are beginning to get that I've been fighting for them my whole life."

Issa Pledges to Help Fong

State Treasurer Fong's only public appearance of the day came at a restaurant in Los Angeles' Chinatown, where he signed a few autographs and thanked a crowd of several dozen supporters.

"We are still glowing in the amazement and wonderment that we won last night," he told the crowd, before proceeding to attack Boxer's record on taxes and Social Security.

"She's weak, she's vulnerable, she can be beaten," he said.

Unofficial returns showed Fong winning the GOP nomination with 45.2% of the vote to 40.1% for Vista car-alarm magnate Darrell Issa.

At the Republican breakfast in Newport Beach, Issa wiped tears from his eyes as he shook hands with Fong, for whom he pledged to work. Privately he told friends that he may run for office again.

"I'm staying very active politically," Issa told the breakfast crowd.

Elsewhere, backers of Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure, were savoring their victory while opponents wasted no time launching a court challenge.

By 10 a.m., they had filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block implementation, and they pledged to seek an order preventing school districts from enacting the measure's provisions in the coming school year.

The losers in the battle over Proposition 226, the union dues initiative, continued to press their fight. In unofficial returns, the measure was defeated 53.5% to 46.5%.

Proponents, led by Gov. Pete Wilson, said their efforts to rein in labor's political clout are far from over. "This was Round 1, and it cost them a great deal to win it," Wilson told reporters, citing the more than $20 million that unions poured into the anti-Proposition 226 campaign.

Perhaps surprisingly, voters also handily rejected Proposition 223, which would have required that 95% of all state education money go directly to classrooms. Despite widespread concerns about public education and a series of high-profile endorsements--including those of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan--the measure was rejected 54.5% to 45.5%.

"We made a strong argument that it was a local controversy that spilled over into a statewide initiative, and that it was flawed in many, many ways," said consultant Wayne Johnson, a leader of the anti-Proposition 223 forces, which portrayed the measure as a Los Angeles money grab. "The message is: Local control responds best to local needs."

In the so-called down-ballot contests, the race for attorney general will pit Democratic state Sen. Bill Lockyer of Hayward against Republican Dave Stirling, the former chief deputy attorney general.

The contest to be California's top cop promises to be one of the hottest of the fall.

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