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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Rhetoric Grows Sharper as Election Nears

Lungren, Fong blast Democrats Davis and Boxer. Four GOP senators and Clinton pay visits in bid to boost contributions, support.

October 25, 1998|CATHLEEN DECKER and MARK. Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

Increasing the sharpness of their rhetoric as election day approaches, the major party candidates for statewide office fanned out across the state Saturday, impugning their opponents and exhorting their supporters to turn out to vote.

In blistering addresses at an Orange County Republican rally, gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren and U.S. Senate nominee Matt Fong--both now underdogs, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll--took turns blasting their Democratic opponents before an adoring audience.

Lungren's opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, took his campaign to Lungren's hometown of Long Beach, which he vowed to carry on Nov. 3.

And Fong's opponent, incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, campaigned Saturday evening with President Clinton, whose fund-raising prowess was expected to add $2 million to the bankrolls of Boxer and other Democrats this weekend.

Echoing what the Republicans had said earlier, Clinton told backers at one Saturday fund-raiser that voter turnout would dictate the fate of Democrats.

"We have to convince people that this election is as important as a presidential election," he said during a Beverly Hills gathering to benefit Democratic congressional candidate Janice Hahn, who is running for the South Bay seat vacated by Jane Harman.

He added later that it remains to be seen whether the election will be determined "by agenda or by apathy and financial advantage."

Lungren, shouting into the microphone and reddening under a hot sun at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, sought to don the mantle of former President Ronald Reagan in a fierce demand for his voters to do their utmost on election day.

In doing so, he indirectly disputed the Times poll, which found him 11 percentage points behind Davis among likely voters. Lungren told reporters that he was a few points down, but said his surveys showed an uptick since the beginning of last week, when the Times poll was taken.

"At the beginning, the polls said that he could not win," Lungren said of Reagan's 1980 campaign. "And in the middle the polls said that he could not win.

"When they had debates, they said that he could not win because he spoke from the heart and he didn't change with the political winds. He was not a creature of consultants. He was not a creature of the moment."

That was a clear reference to Davis, whom Lungren also criticized on the issue of education. He complained about Davis' negative television ads.

"The Democrats are refusing to debate the issues," he said. "They are the fear-mongers of this campaign. They don't want to talk about taking our kids and making them first, instead of the CTA"--the California Teachers Assn., which is strongly pro-Democratic.

Lungren called for rooting out bad teachers, paying bonuses to good teachers and allowing those with particular skills to be paid more. He also advocated alternative credentialing that would allow non-teachers to instruct children.

The attorney general started the day in San Diego, where he won the endorsement of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition. The chairman of the group, J. Thomas Burch Jr., said the organization backed Lungren because of his support for veterans issues while he was in Congress in the 1980s.

If that was an attempt to embarrass Davis, who throughout the campaign has bragged about his service in Vietnam, Davis' jaunt to Long Beach was an attempt to do the same in Lungren's backyard.

"I have always carried this city against the Republican and I'm going to do it again," the increasingly optimistic lieutenant governor told about 150 labor activists who gathered in the parking lot of the local carpenters union hall.

"I am taking this battle directly to Dan's hometown to show we have friends everywhere," Davis went on. "The fact is, no [Democratic] candidate for governor in 25 years has had as good a chance as I do to win this race."

Davis accused Lungren and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson of waging "a relentless assault on the rights of workers" and promised an administration "that respects all workers, whether they're janitors or CEOs."

Specifically, Davis pledged to work to repeal a new state regulation, set to take effect Jan. 1, that ends California's guarantee of time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked beyond the traditional eight-hour work day. The new rules, promoted by Wilson and passed by the state Industrial Welfare Commission, require the extra pay only after 40 hours in a week.

Davis brushed aside the veterans' endorsement of Lungren. "Virtually every veterans organization has endorsed my candidacy because they know I answered the call," he said in a pointed reference to Lungren's lack of service.

The Senate candidates, meanwhile, took up where the gubernatorial nominees left off in terms of inflammatory rhetoric.

Fong, in Orange County, accused Boxer of being outside the mainstream "on every issue that affects the lives of Californians.

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