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CAMPAIGN 2000 | U.S. SENATE

Campbell Sweeps Race to Face Feinstein

The San Jose congressman outdistances his opponents for GOP nomination by a margin even bigger than polls projected. Senator, as expected, sails.

March 08, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN and AMY PYLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Democrat Dianne Feinstein will defend her U.S. Senate seat against Rep. Tom Campbell (R-San Jose) in the fall, a contest pitting one of California best-known politicians against one who hopes to usher in a new era of unity for the state GOP.

"It's going to be a spirited race," a happy but cautious Feinstein told reporters moments before taking the stage at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles to thank supporters.

Campbell ran far ahead of his chief Republican rivals for the nomination, state Sen. Ray Haynes of Riverside and San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn. In an indication that he swayed undecided voters in the waning days of a sleepy primary campaign, Campbell outdistanced the two men to an even greater degree than projected in preelection polls.

"It's a remarkable opportunity for me," Campbell said from his celebratory party in the Bay Area community of Campbell.

The congressman, who won concessions from both his GOP opponents and a commitment of support from Haynes, predicted that he would win in November by bringing together moderates like himself and conservatives like his primary opponents.

Feinstein, seeking her second six-year term, ran virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination and, according to a Times exit poll, beat Campbell among every group of voters Tuesday except Republicans and conservatives.

She predictably overwhelmed Campbell among liberal voters, and beat him almost 3 to 1 among those who described themselves as political moderates.

Feinstein also did well, the exit poll found, among voters whose decisions were influenced by issues most important to the general electorate.

Just under a third of the voters, for example, said they were most concerned with who would be a strong voice for California. In that regard, the incumbent bettered Campbell more than 2 to 1. Similarly, she did far better than Campbell among voters who said they were most influenced by a candidate's "experience."

"Those are very good signs for her," said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus. "They raise the basic question facing Republicans: Why would voters want her out?"

But the poll numbers did offer some encouragement for Campbell. For example, he fared far better than Feinstein among voters who saw taxes as an important issue. And because he, like Feinstein, is pro-abortion rights pro-gun control, he could close Feinstein's advantage among voters on those issues once his positions become better known.

For Haynes and Horn, the results--although not surprising--were still disappointing, especially because the self-described conservatives did not even win as much of the conservative vote as Campbell, according to the exit poll.

"If you don't raise the money, you can't win, and that was the bottom line on this whole race," said Haynes.

Added Horn: "We ran a good race, but this is a big state and it takes a lot of money to make something happen."

Even before addressing his supporters, Haynes pledged to support Campbell in the general election. Horn balked at such a commitment. "I would normally go endorse the Republican winner," Horn said. "But in this case, I have to think it over."

Although he was the last Republican to enter the race, Campbell was always the front-runner.

A well-known congressman who had sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 1994, Campbell, 47, began with more name recognition and far more campaign cash than either Haynes or Horn.

More significant, his moderate stands led many in the GOP to consider the Stanford University law professor the party's only hope of unseating Feinstein.

But almost immediately, Campbell's positions drew controversy. Most notably, he came under fire from his opponents--as well as Feinstein--for advocating a small, government-authorized drug distribution experiment to combat drug-related crime and get addicts into rehabilitation programs.

To Republican conservatives, many of Campbell's positions were not only intolerable but also indistinguishable from Feinstein's--a notion that his Republican opponents pursued relentlessly.

"Tom Campbell is just Dianne Feinstein in Boxer shorts," Horn often quipped, alluding to California's other senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer. But Campbell brushed aside such comparisons and sought to draw hard distinctions between himself and Feinstein--particularly on fiscal issues.

Touting his "cheapest man in Congress" ranking by the National Taxpayers Union, Campbell devoted time at campaign appearances to fiscal issues. He sought to portray himself as a fiscal tightwad and Feinstein as a spendthrift.

"I don't spend your money and she can't stop spending your money," he told Republicans at the state party convention last month.

But there was one financial area in which Campbell almost kept pace with Feinstein: fund-raising.

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