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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS U.S.

Rivals Clash Over China in TV Debate

Challenger Campbell accuses incumbent Feinstein of pro-trade votes that benefit her husband financially. She says he has disposed of investments.


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and challenger Tom Campbell clashed repeatedly Tuesday over her votes on China trade and other foreign policy matters in a contentious face-off just two weeks before the election.

During an hourlong debate broadcast live throughout California on cable television, the Republican congressman from San Jose all but accused Democrat Feinstein of maintaining a conflict of interest for supporting permanent trade relations with China while her husband had investments there and managed millions of dollars in other investments there.

"For eight years you have been a senator, for eight years you have been casting votes for China," Campbell said, arguing that Feinstein should have refrained from such votes while her husband, Richard Blum, did business in China.

An agitated Feinstein, who is far ahead of Campbell in the polls, dismissed Campbell's comments as wild accusations by a "desperate candidate."

"I own nothing in China," Feinstein said. "My husband has divested all of his investments. Any personal profits go into a charitable trust. Period."

The clash followed recent reports in The Times and the San Francisco Examiner about Blum's business holdings in China. The Times found that, although Blum says he disposed of his personal investments there, he continues to manage a partnership that has invested in China. The Times also found that Blum or partnerships he manages have major interests in an airline seeking U.S. approval to expand its China business and in a Korean bank that operates a joint venture in China.

Blum said last week that he will not invest in mainland China or Hong Kong as long as Feinstein is a senator, "to avoid even the appearance of conflict."

Feinstein seemed especially offended that Campbell began his debate remarks with the China issue and offered a new accusation--that one of the Blum-managed investments is in a company that produces military steel. She denied that claim.

"I am really sorry he chose to open with an attack," Feinstein said during the debate at Santa Monica's Adelphia Communications. "I have been in public life for over 30 years. There has never been an ounce of scandal. . . . I take my public trust very seriously. It is my lifeblood."

The topic was only one of several areas of disagreement.

Feinstein strongly defended her vote to support a tougher drug intervention effort in Colombia, while Campbell said the $1.3-billion package could lead the United States toward another Vietnam War.

Feinstein criticized as "unbelievable" Campbell's support for a government experiment in distributing drugs to addicts to see if drug abuse and related crime would decline. Campbell countered that politicians must be willing to employ new tactics to fight drug abuse because current efforts have failed.

And Feinstein went after Campbell for opposing a measure to establish a patients' bill of rights. He said he objected to the bill because it would allow lawsuits against employers. Feinstein said that provision would apply only in cases when employers make medical decisions.

Campbell, a Stanford law professor barely known to many California voters, was not only more aggressive than Feinstein during the debate but also seemed more comfortable with details at times.

During their exchange on drugs, Feinstein at first seemed to reverse her position on Proposition 36, saying she supports the initiative that would send many nonviolent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison. But under questioning about her stand, Feinstein said she opposes the measure.

Feinstein said she objects to the initiative partly because it would allow those arrested for drugs many times to avoid jail sentences. But Proposition 36 would make that allowance for only the first two arrests. After that, the decision about jail time or treatment would be left to a judge.

After the debate, political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe termed the congressman's aggressiveness "probably the best way, if not the only way, for Tom Campbell . . . to get the media that he needs and get his message across."

However, she said, "he simply did not make the case for change. He didn't make the case that would move Democrats. And he didn't make a case that would solidify the Republican base. And those are two very critical factors."

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