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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Candidates Launch Last Week of Politicking

Contenders for governor and Senate scramble across state, with Lungren disputing polls that give Davis the lead. Boxer gets boost from Clinton fund-raising, while Fong defends donation to anti-gay group.


They prayed. They picnicked. They pleaded for cash and palled around with the president.

On Sunday, the day of rest, the four major candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate scrambled up and down the state, kicking off the final full week of campaigning before the Nov. 3 election.

Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, luxuriating in polls showing him comfortably ahead in the race for governor, toured black churches in San Francisco and mused over how he intends to run California come January. His rival, Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, disputed those polls and attacked his opponent as a liberal in centrist clothing.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer continued to rake in big bucks with the help of President Clinton, while Republican challenger Matt Fong targeted more low-end dollars, urging backers to spare even $25, using their Visas or Mastercards.

At the same time, state Treasurer Fong was forced to defend his own sizable donation--made with leftover money from his 1994 treasurer's campaign--to an anti-gay, anti-abortion political lobbying group.

Boxer, speaking to reporters after morning services at the Center of Hope Community Church in East Oakland, attacked Fong for his $50,000 donation to the Traditional Values Coalition, first reported in Sunday's San Francisco Examiner.

"When you give huge amounts of money to an organization that is essentially dedicated to a campaign of hate, it really shows what you believe in," Boxer said. "This is not a mainstream group, this is an extreme group."

But Fong, who has sought to position himself as a moderate on social issues, said he made the contribution to help promote a proposed state initiative that would ban official recognition of same-sex marriages. "Rev. Lou and I disagree on many things," Fong said, referring to the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the conservative Christian group. "But when it comes to defense of traditional marriage, we agree."

The flap enlivened a day largely devoted to the candidates' tried-and-true messages, selectively delivered to their most time-tested constituencies. With turnout expected to play a big part in both parties' fortunes--and most particularly, the tight race for U.S. Senate--each of the candidates began stretch-run efforts to energize bases of support.

Davis made a run of three black churches in San Francisco, preaching a message of healing and vowing, "The moment I take the oath of office as governor, the era of wedge-issue politics is over."

In the wake of Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative-action initiative approved by voters in 1996, Davis said he would seek to promote diversity by essentially guaranteeing admission to the University of California system to the top 4% of all high school graduates. Davis said he would only appoint UC regents who back that approach and took a symbolic potshot at the primary public spokesman for Proposition 209, UC Regent Ward Connerly.

Once Connerly's term expires, Davis said to a standing ovation at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, "I'm going to thank Ward Connerly for his service to California and tell him to keep moving on." In fact, Connerly's 12-year term runs until 2005, meaning his reappointment will not be an issue for the next governor.

After services, Davis was asked about the prospect of a Democratic governor and Democratic-run Legislature operating in Sacramento for the first time in 16 years. Hewing to his centrist theme, Davis told reporters, "I'm certainly going to live within the resources that the economy provides. And I'm going to lead this state down a moderate path into the next century."

Outside Sacramento, Lungren ate oysters and barbecued steak with his fellow GOP ticket-mates and Gov. Pete Wilson, along with about 600 party stalwarts who paid $30 apiece to munch and mingle with the party bigwigs.

Dressed in a cowboy hat, boots and jeans, a folksy Lungren disputed recent polls, including a Los Angeles Times survey published Sunday, that show him trailing Davis by wide margins. "What I want you to understand is that we are now up," he told the cheering crowd.

His surveys, he said, showed him dipping recently but bounding back.

Flanked by two of his four children and his wife, Bobbi, Lungren continued to assail Davis for accepting millions of dollars from labor unions and trial lawyers and revisited another old theme, attacking Davis for his service as chief of staff to former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.

"If you want to return to the days of Jerry Brown, now just make sure that Gray Davis is elected," he said, as the crowd broke out in loud boos.

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