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California and the West

Political Rivals Join Forces in Race to Unseat Feinstein

Senate: Candidates from the Green Party and the GOP highlight their shared goals in taking on incumbent.

August 20, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To naysayers, they are--if not political Lilliputians--Davids versus a Goliath. For try as they might to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, her November opponents know she has every advantage.

So Republican congressman Tom Campbell and Green Party candidate Medea Benjamin are trying something unconventional. They chose last week's Democratic National Convention to team up and jointly challenge Feinstein from the political right, left and positions in between.

On Tuesday night, in a sweltering, sixth-floor studio at the site of the shadow convention, Campbell and Benjamin participated in a nationally broadcast radio program to criticize Feinstein for, among other things, supporting sending troops to Kosovo.

On Wednesday, they held a news conference in West Hollywood with onetime third-party presidential candidate John Anderson to call for campaign finance reforms. And earlier this year, the two went to a drug treatment center in San Francisco to criticize the nation's war on drugs as a failure, saying that America should do more about drug abuse prevention and treatment.

Campbell and Benjamin say they are just beginning to try to draw Feinstein into a debate. Their goal is to portray her as an establishment politician out of step with many California voters.

That will be no easy task. Feinstein is not only far ahead in the polls, but she won 1 million more votes than anyone on the March primary ballot, including presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush.

But Campbell and Benjamin say they hope to at least energize voters and bring attention to issues in a Senate campaign that has drawn less attention than some mayoral races.

"One of our goals is to force her to talk about some issues," said Benjamin, an economist who has worked for the United Nations and is founding director of the human rights organization Global Exchange.

The challengers sharply disagree on some matters. Benjamin rejects Campbell's call for a national tax to replace the federal income tax. Campbell defends the work of the World Bank, which Benjamin says should be disbanded.

And on defense, Campbell supports a new missile system and the traditional GOP call for spending plenty on the military. Benjamin insists that too much is wasted on defense, and money should be redirected to domestic and foreign aid.

Still, they share many stands. And that is what they are emphasizing.

Both say that Congress' recent decision to earmark $1.2 billion in aid to fight drugs in Colombia puts the United States on a course toward another Vietnam. And they both say that U.S. sanctions against Iraq should be lifted because they are hurting innocent civilians rather than that nation's anti-U.S. leader, Saddam Hussein. And they say the International Monetary Fund has been a disaster for poor countries.

"The two of you sound like you have more in common than you disagree on," Amy Goodman, co-host of the community-sponsored radio program "Democracy Now!" said during their radio appearance. "It sounds like we have conservative and liberal lines blurring here."

The next day, Campbell and Benjamin continued that theme. "I commend Medea," Campbell said at their news conference on campaign financing, "for bringing us together to show that we can work across party lines on issues that are very, very important."

Benjamin later returned the compliment. "I think one of the great things about Tom Campbell is that he really cares about the issues because he stuck his neck out on some issues that are not extremely popular with voters," she said. "And that shows somebody who is in fact more concerned about the issues than the votes."

Benjamin, whose political activism has included battling sweatshop conditions in factories and multinational organizations like the World Trade Organization, said she was enthused by Campbell's willingness to join her in debate.

"I think that wherever . . . we can push forward issues we both agree on, we are doing what is the best of politics," she said, "[and] focus on areas where we can make people's lives better, which is why we got into this race."

Feinstein's campaign manager, Kam Kuwata, dismissed the challengers' criticism and their strategy: "I don't know what their agendas are, but Dianne is clearly in the mainstream of California voters."

Anderson applauded the Campbell-Benjamin alliance, especially the joint call for campaign finance reform. "It is not just a ploy. Not just a gambit," Anderson said. "It is an innovation in political campaigning."

Still, Benjamin couldn't resist suggesting to Campbell last week that he should change party stripes. "I think in this race Dianne Feinstein is actually a more conservative candidate [on social issues]," Benjamin said during the radio broadcast. "And I wonder why Tom Campbell sticks with the Republican Party."

Campbell didn't bite. A Republican he is and a Republican he'll stay, he said.

"No party fits me perfectly," he said later, smiling. "No party fits anyone perfectly."

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