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Candidates Make Final, Frantic Blitz Before Vote

Politics: Hopefuls spend big on TV ads in effort to sway the undecided and grab voters from opposing party. Push also includes rush of appearances up and down the state.

November 02, 1998|CATHLEEN DECKER and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

Entreating voters by television screen and radio and from the pulpit, California's major candidates for office stormed the state Sunday and headed into a final day of campaigning for the election that will dictate the balance of political power here into the next century.

The gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates threw millions of dollars in advertisements onto the state's airwaves, hoping to entice late-deciding voters their way. That was crucially important for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren, an acknowledged underdog, and for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and her GOP opponent, Matt Fong, who were locked in a tighter race.

Ahead in all polling, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gray Davis was confident but not overly so, and proved it by launching a staggering $1 million of television ads Sunday and today.

Lungren took advantage of a $400,000 grant from the Republican National Committee to try to match Davis in the Los Angeles area, the state's biggest media market and home to nearly half of the voters on election day.

All but Fong publicly sought divine intervention, making the traditional tours to churches to try to attract captive parishioners. Fong also attended, albeit privately.

Davis, making his traditional Sunday-before-election-day stop at First AME Church in Los Angeles with the rest of the Democratic ticket, vowed to be a "healer, not a divider"--and then proceeded to reel off his own set of wedge issues aimed at peeling moderate Republican and independent voters from Lungren.

Lungren, in a switch for a Republican, spent part of the day preaching at a small South Los Angeles church, where he vowed to bring the state's schools back to preeminence for children of all races. "Nobody left behind," he insisted.

Boxer lobbied African Americans and labor members--two of her most dependable groups of supporters--as she and Fong wrestled to define each other as too extreme for the state's huge block of moderate voters.

The stops, colorful and heartfelt as they were, were only the backdrop to the major candidate business of the day, getting their message out over the airwaves while encouraging volunteers to build enthusiasm among their partisans.

Political activists from around the nation were watching the California contests not only for the array of candidates and initiatives on the ballot, but also for the impact the election will have from Sacramento to Washington. The next governor will pass judgment on a new redistricting plan drawn up by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which could--if Davis is elected--lock in Democratic control of the Legislature and the state's congressional delegation.

And the next senator, whether Fong or Boxer, could well sit in judgment of President Clinton if the GOP-dominated House of Representatives votes to impeach the chief executive.

Davis' huge advertising buy represented as much money as is commonly spent in a week's time --all of it concentrated into two days. With a firm hold on Democratic voters, he hoped to use his final two ads to reach across the ideological divide to independent and Republican voters.

In one, he tells voters that education is his top priority and vows to protect the environment and keep assault weapons off the streets--all major issues to so-called swing voters. He also reiterates his support for the death penalty.

In a second commercial, he more explicitly contrasts himself with Lungren on the issues of abortion, education, environment and assault weapons.

Lungren Pins Hopes on Ads

Lungren, for his part, also hinged his chances for victory on two television ads, which are notable for their virtual omission of the death penalty and crime, the hallmarks until now of Lungren's much-criticized campaign strategy.

Returning to a more Reaganesque approach he offered earlier in the campaign, Lungren skipped lightly over policy details in one ad, though he mentioned issues most important to voters. "I want all children to believe in themselves and in their future in California," he said, adding--without explaining how--that he would improve schools, fight for safer streets and good jobs, and lessen taxation.

While that ad resounded with traditional Republican themes, Lungren's second ad accused Davis and "union bosses and trial lawyers" of conspiring to "buy" the governor's office for their own ends.

The Senate commercials for both sides were more overt efforts to portray the opponent as rash and unrepresentative of California.

Fong launched one ad that characterizes him as a family man who "believes every Californian should have the opportunity to realize their American Dream"--a subtle appeal to the state's mostly Democratic minorities.

Another uses clippings of newspaper ads and endorsements to forward a message that Boxer is too liberal for California voters. And a third, running in the Bay Area where Fong hopes to undercut Boxer among Asian American voters, features Fong's mother, Democratic former Secretary of State March Fong Eu.

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