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California and the West | U.S. SENATE

Campbell Upbeat Despite Feinstein's Big Lead in Polls

The Republican challenger gets a warm reception in the Bay Area, but a victory on Tuesday is still a longshot. Many voters like the incumbent's centrist positions.


SAN FRANCISCO — Tom Campbell takes pride in being an outsider, even in his own party. "I've rocked every boat in the harbor," he has taken to saying at campaign stops up and down the state.

The problem with his longshot effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is that his own boat has trailed so far behind the incumbent's that they often seem to be sailing in different oceans--and in different directions. This weekend, the San Jose Republican congressman finally got a tail wind as his style of socially conscious conservatism connected with crowds in the Bay Area.

With only one day left in the campaign and, according to the latest polls, still trailing by the same 20-point margin that has separated the two candidates for months, it may be too late. But he welcomed it anyway, even seeming nonplused at his warm reception at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Foster City.

"I haven't been drawing crowds like this," he candidly admitted to the crowd of 150 at the Crown Plaza Hotel. "Thank you."

Indeed, though he has kept up a breakneck pace on the campaign trail, his crowds have generally been small enough to daunt most candidates. Campbell, however, has remained buoyant and optimistic despite being written off by experts as California's version of Al Smith, the Happy Warrior.

Feinstein, alternately received as a visiting dignitary and an old friend, focused on Central California in the final days of her campaign. At each stop, voters made it clear why Feinstein has kept her wide margin of support.

"I like her stands on [issues]," Charlotte Helander, 68, said after a get-out-the-vote rally in Cupertino.

A Democrat, the retired computer software processor said she voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in the March primary. But Tuesday, she will vote for Democrats, including Feinstein, whom she always has supported.

"I don't agree with every position she has . . . but I do agree with main ones like gun control," she said.

Campbell on Saturday impressed a crowd of 500 sign-carrying Taiwanese Americans who were demonstrating in San Francisco against U.S. policy on Taiwan. "Yes to Campbell," the crowd shouted over and over as the candidate said he supports "the right of the people of Taiwan to decide their own destiny" without bullying by China.

The demonstration at United Nations Plaza was held to protest what critics called the Clinton administration's policy of appeasing China in that nation's effort to isolate Taiwan.

"Most people try to stand close to a super power," said real estate broker George Cheng. "Tom Campbell has the courage to stand out and say no to China."

Campbell has developed close ties with the Taiwanese. He was particularly critical of what he called the administration's decision not to allow the president of Taiwan to visit U.S. elected officials in a recent trip to Los Angeles.

There was some hopeful news for the Campbell campaign in the latest Field Poll, which showed that Campbell has achieved one of his objectives. He is becoming better known.

In June, two-thirds of the electorate had no opinion about him. Now, he is viewed favorably by 36% of the voters, and unfavorably by 28%. Still, the poll showed that 52% of the voters favor Feinstein, compared to 32% for Campbell.

Campbell had hoped that by increasing his name recognition, he would be able to cut into Feinstein's base. That has not happened.

Despite her lead, Feinstein appeared Saturday at a union hall in San Luis Obispo to plead with local Democrats not to take the election for granted.

"I just think her centrist approach is the right way to go," said Mike Heyl, a 38-year-old elementary school teacher. "She is willing to listen and work for everyone."

Standing with Heyl outside the union hall of the Plumbers, Steamfitters and Apprentices Union, Local 403, George Campion agreed that Feinstein has been successful because of her workmanlike style of governing.

"I like her approach," said Campion, 52, a Federal Express driver. "She is dedicated, a serious person, successful, capable and hard working."

Said Campion: "Look, she breaks her leg and what does she do? Stump the state for other candidates.

"That," he said, "shows commitment."

One of those she stumped for is Burbank state Sen. Adam Schiff, who is running for Congress. At a Saturday morning rally in Pasadena, Schiff told a crowd of 300 that Feinstein has been an "extraordinary" representative for California and predicted that she would be reelected by a landslide.

"In 1992, Sen. Feinstein was elected with more votes than any senator in United States history," Schiff said. "And you know what? This year we are going to make sure she breaks that record, too."

Feinstein's centrist likability has been stacked against Campbell all along. Even at a Campbell event in Sacramento last week, longtime Republican activist Marilyn Needham said that while she supports Campbell, "if we got Dianne Feinstein back it wouldn't be all bad."

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