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DECISION 2000 | U.S. SENATE

Feinstein Posts an Easy Victory Over Republican Rep. Campbell

November 08, 2000|JOHN JOHNSON and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein easily won reelection over Republican Rep. Tom Campbell of San Jose on Tuesday, in a contest that demonstrated her centrist popularity and the failure of California Republicans to rally behind one of their own.

Campbell called Feinstein to concede shortly after 9 p.m., only an hour after the polls closed. Despite his defeat, Campbell said he was not disappointed.

"I'm thrilled at what we did" in the campaign, said Campbell at a Republican gathering in the peninsula town of Campbell. He said he wished Feinstein "very great success in representing the people of California."

Feinstein, rather than savoring her comfortable victory, said she was ready to get back to work on passing legislation, including a hate crime bill. "We've got to build our domestic union so that all people can do well," she said at a celebration at the Delancey Street drug foundation in San Francisco.

She attributed her success to staying in close contact with her constituents. "I've never felt out of step with the electorate," she said.

Everywhere she went here in recent days, Feinstein was treated as a political celebrity, in expectation of an easy victory.

Her main rival, Campbell, a Stanford law professor and former state legislator, had run for statewide office before--an unsuccessful bid for the GOP Senate nomination in 1992. Based on his years in office and his blend of fiscally conservative but socially conscious politics, he was thought by some to be the perfect foil in modern, diverse California.

But his campaign never got off the ground.

His views, including his support for abortion rights and for spending less on drug enforcement and more on drug treatment, alienated the party's core conservatives. Without them to stoke the fires of campaign fund-raising, Campbell struggled to raise the money needed to run an aggressive statewide race against a popular incumbent.

Feinstein campaigned on her record of carrying gun control legislation and establishing an effective local network of donors and activists. "When you're in the job, doing the job, that's as effective as campaigning," she said.

Trailing far behind the two top candidates were Medea Susan Benjamin of the Green Party, Gail Katherine Lightfoot of the Libertarian Party, Jose Luis "Joe" Camahort of the Reform Party, Brian M. Rees of the Natural Law Party and Diane Beall Templin of the American Independent Party.

Feinstein's impending victory gave her an opportunity to move on some issues that she feels need attention despite America's strong economy: education, crime, health care and transportation.

A popular former mayor of this town, Feinstein took that record of constituent service to Washington after she was elected to the Senate in 1992. And she avoided being seen as just another San Francisco lefty, in fact earning a reputation for moderation.

With California's growing population putting demands on resources, Feinstein has pledged to work hard on the state's energy deregulation and water issues.

"We have the same water infrastructure for a state of 34 million that we did for 16 million," Feinstein said. She would like to bring on seven new water storage facilities.

She also said the state's electrical generation system "is broken" and in need of restructuring. In particular, she wants to slow down deregulation.

Throughout the campaign, she talked about the growing problem of identity theft. Los Angeles leads the nation in that crime. The average loss to victims, she said, is $18,000. She said she'd like to make it harder to sell personal information.

She also wants to focus attention on improving the survival rate of breast cancer victims through more research and treatment.

As for Campbell, his problems started early.

"He had no money," said Campbell campaign strategist Sean Walsh. "And . . . fair or unfair, the truth is if you have money, the pundits and the press and the political insiders take you more seriously."

And with no sizable support from within his own party, Campbell reached out to independents. But that strategy relied on showing up at little-noticed forums that relegated the Republican candidate to almost third-party status, and on doing town hall-style radio broadcasts.

Campbell, who will return to teach law at Stanford University, has not ruled out another run for office.

Feinstein's campaign manager, Kam Kuwata, said Campbell had no one to blame but himself for his campaign. "For a man who is called the smartest man in Congress, he seemingly has run one of the worst statewide campaigns in the history of California politics," Kuwata said.

From starting his campaign late, less than a year before election day, to his public acknowledgment that Feinstein has been a good senator for California, Campbell failed to offer a compelling reason for voters to replace her.

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