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California and the West | ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE

Feinstein Shows Her Fund-Raising Clout

Incumbent and President Clinton raise $1 million in an evening, to be shared with two party committees.

March 05, 2000|AMY PYLE and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN FRANCISCO — In the final week before California's primary, incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein showed her might as a candidate, raising $600,000 in an evening, with the president's help.

Although Feinstein is running virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's election, President Bill Clinton flew here to be keynote speaker Friday at a $500-a-head dinner for her at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, followed by two private receptions.

After joking that Feinstein's husband had given him tips on being a senator's spouse, Clinton turned serious, crediting Feinstein with accomplishing more in her first term than any other senator.

He noted her work on U.S. negotiations with China and Tibet, on saving the redwoods and the desert and on fighting for gun controls in an often hostile legislative environment.

"Elections are about the future . . . [and] the only way we can continue to do well is to keep striving to do better," the president said. "That's what this election's about."

Although the evening's proceeds will be shared by Feinstein and two Democratic committees, much of it could come back to her if her campaign hits any bumps.

In addition to the three-course Mark Hopkins dinner, the president accompanied Feinstein to a second $10,000-a-person dinner at a private home. The night ended with a small dessert reception, where fruit meringue and mingling with the country's leader cost $50,000 a couple. The dessert took in $400,000, for a total of $1 million raised during Clinton's visit.

Beneath the accolades for Feinstein was this message: Take nothing for granted.

Dinner organizer Robert J. McCarthy, a San Francisco lobbyist and attorney, offered diners Feinstein's 1994 race against then-Rep. Michael Huffington as a cautionary tale. She won it by the scarcest of margins, despite early polls that showed her far ahead.

And Feinstein said almost plaintively, "I hope that you will find me worthy of reelection to the Senate," drawing "awwwws" and applause from the crowd of 400.

Half of Feinstein's remarks concerned limiting access to firearms. She read letters she had received from schoolchildren, including one who recounted hearing 20 gunshots a night.

Change won't really come, Feinstein warned, until "the women of America . . . are willing to stand up against the gun owners, against the NRA"--the National Rifle Assn.

"She's really not like a Republican; she's really not like a Democrat," said insurance broker William Levin, who confided that he is a Republican but plans to vote for Feinstein on Tuesday and again in November.

It was the senator's first campaign event of the week and, in fact, her first major appearance since the state Democratic Party convention last month.

Meanwhile, the three best-known Republican candidates ricocheted around the state.

Front-runner Rep. Tom Campbell of San Jose insisted he is not taking the primary for granted. But in back-to-back speeches he addressed Los Angeles-area audiences as though he had already won, focusing on Feinstein with no mention of his primary opponents.

State Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside) and San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn are running against Campbell on Tuesday.

Addressing the California Business Roundtable in Marina del Rey, Campbell said his campaign's polls show him within striking distance of Feinstein--trailing her 48% to 37% in a head-to-head contest. Most independent polls show her with a 20-point advantage.

At other events, Campbell touched on foreign policy. Late Friday, he made an impassioned address in Reseda at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Arab American Institute.

The U.S. embargo against Iraq only punishes civilians, he said. And the Justice Department, Campbell added, should be blocked from using undisclosed information--"secret evidence"--to detain foreigners suspected but never convicted of crimes.

"That's not Republican. That's not Democratic. That's not Libertarian. That's not American," he said.

Earlier, Campbell used a luncheon speech before the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Popular Culture to discuss his unconventional proposal for redirecting $960 million a year in economic aid from Israel to Africa. In the course of an hour, he seemed to win over many in the crowd of more than 100.

"He's great. . . . I don't think I could disagree with anything he said," said film producer Dimitri Villard, a former member of the Democratic State Committee in New York, now an independent in California.

Among the proposals that resonated with Villard: Campbell's suggestion that the government allow small pilot projects to distribute drugs to combat drug-related crime and get addicts into rehabilitation programs.

"He had the first good, sensible approach to the drug problem I have ever heard," said Villard, who nonetheless added he had not yet decided whom to support for Senate.

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