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

Feinstein Stumps for Compatriots

With a massive lead, the senator is lending a hand to other Democratic candidates. Campbell crisscrosses the state in final push.

November 03, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN and JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — She is not declaring the race over, not officially. But in the waning days of her bid for reelection, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's campaign has come to resemble a victory tour.

While her opponent, San Jose Rep. Tom Campbell, zigzags up and down the state in a desperate sprint to the finish, Feinstein is focusing on helping Democratic brethren locked in tight races.

"I have reached the point where I would like to help others," Feinstein told reporters in Walnut Creek after a rousing address to several hundred senior citizens from the Democrats of Rossmore club. She came to support two candidates for state office.

"I feel my election is in fair shape,' said Feinstein, a Democrat who polls show is leading her Republican challenger by 20 to 25 points. "There are other candidates who are good candidates. And if I can help them get a leg hold, I'd like to do that."

On Wednesday, she appeared in the San Jose suburb of Cupertino, endorsing House candidate Mike Honda and two Democratic contenders for state Assembly.

Feinstein will be in Fresno today supporting Democratic candidates and speaking out against Proposition 36, which would send nonviolent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison.

While the senator hopes to secure not only her own triumph but also victory for fellow Democrats, Campbell continues to hunt for votes from one end of the state to the other. Appearing Thursday at a small luncheon hosted by the Comstock Club in Sacramento, he hit the campaign themes he has made the centerpieces of his challenge: campaign finance reform and rethinking the nation's war on drugs.

He called Feinstein the product of a flawed political system. But he also sent barbs in the direction of Republican strategists who have criticized his campaign.

In recent days, analysts from his own party have questioned his choice of issues. Instead of talking so much about treating drug users more humanely, they said, he should have portrayed the incumbent--who is nearly 20 years older--as out of date and out of touch.

"Let's get one thing straight: Age is not an issue," Campbell said pointedly in prepared remarks before 20 people at the Radisson Hotel.

Speaking to reporters afterward, he was even more unapologetic--especially about the drug issue. "I'm proud I brought it up," he said.

Campbell had been in Los Angeles on Wednesday, and drove over to San Jose after the appearance Thursday in Sacramento before the Comstock Club, a once-influential civic organization whose ranks and clout have thinned recently. Today, he is scheduled to appear in Hemet at a Republican Party event with singer Wayne Newton.

Rather than being daunted by the size of his task and the lack of time left for making his case, Campbell seemed typically upbeat Thursday. There were moments when his speech almost sounded like a wistful eulogy. While not admitting defeat, he said that no matter what happens on election day, the issues he brought forward will continue to be discussed.

Still, the final week of the campaign has not been without some encouraging developments for Campbell.

On Monday and Tuesday, he appeared with GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush in Burbank and San Jose. The appearances gave Campbell the sort of media exposure crucial to any statewide candidate, particularly one who was shown by the most recent Los Angeles Times poll to be unknown to more than half of California's voters.

All week long, Campbell continued his media campaign. One ad features Arizona Sen. John McCain, the unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate who maintains a substantial following in California. The other focuses on Campbell's opposition to America's current war on drugs and supports spending more money on prevention and treatment.

The commercials are part of a final, three-week television strategy that will cost about $1.2 million, almost one-fourth of all the money Campbell has raised in this campaign.

Meantime, Feinstein began airing a new television commercial touting her endorsements by most of California's large newspapers. The ads were part of a television push that will cost an estimated $4.3 million.

And Feinstein was out helping other candidates.

As she made clear in Cupertino, she wanted to weigh in on some key races where she might provide skirt-tails to elect fellow Democrats.

The appearances come at a time when Feinstein has been increasingly criticized by Campbell and the smaller-party candidates for not agreeing to more debates. Green Party candidate Medea Benjamin has been particularly pointed in her criticism--On Thursday she began airing television ads, including one that shows her and Campbell sitting down for a debate, with Feinstein a no-show.

Dismissing that criticism, Feinstein said in Cupertino that her relatively low-key campaign is a testament to her legislative accomplishments after eight years in the Senate.

"I have run a campaign based on the record, and the record would reflect that I have produced for California, that I have been effective," she said, citing her work on assault weapons controls and the Desert Protection Act.

"People don't only respond to a campaign," Feinstein said. "They respond to six years of work.

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