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Campbell Accuses Feinstein of Flip-Flops

Politics: At the state convention, the Republican challenger criticizes his opponent's voting record. The incumbent's campaign calls his charges inaccurate.

September 17, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALM SPRINGS — Leveling some of the most pointed criticism of his campaign, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Campbell on Saturday portrayed Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein as an election-year politician who "flip-flops" on issues to secure her place with voters.

"Sen. Feinstein takes positions in the off year directly contrary to her election-year promises," the San Jose congressman told a breakfast crowd of about 100 at the state party convention here.

"That is not consistency. That is not statesmanship. It's not leadership," Campbell said.

Campbell said Feinstein this year supported an end to the "marriage tax" but had voted five times since 1995 against measures to increase the standard deduction for couples who file joint returns.

He noted that she voted three times against an end to estate taxes before backing a repeal this year.

And Campbell said Feinstein changed her position on a balanced budget amendment, opposing it in recent years with Republicans in control of Congress but supporting it before 1995, when Democrats were in power.

"The point is: You deserve better service than you're receiving," Campbell said. "You deserve a senator who doesn't think the horizon ends at the next election, but begins with the next generation."

A Feinstein spokesman called Campbell's comments "inaccurate and bizarre."

Mark Kadesh, her chief of staff, said the 1995 votes on the marriage penalty and estate tax sprang from her opposition to a Republican tax bill that would have deeply cut Medicare, Medicaid and education.

In 1998, Kadesh added, Feinstein supported two other measures to cut the marriage penalty and last year introduced a bipartisan bill on that same topic. "The 1998 votes were taken immediately after the ones he cited," Kadesh said, "and for someone who has tried to call himself a straight talker, this is not only inaccurate, it appears to be purposely misleading."

Kadesh also noted that in 1995 Feinstein offered a proposal "identical" to the Republicans' balanced-budged measure except that it would not have allowed Social Security to be counted.

The back-and-forth comes about two months before the general election, with Campbell trailing significantly in the polls and hoping to rally the GOP faithful.

With socially moderate views unpalatable to many conservatives, Campbell's goal is clear: to emphasize his fiscal conservatism and portray himself as consistent and independent.

"Whether you agree with me or not--on voting against Newt Gingrich or to impeach Bill Clinton, on opposing the unconstitutional war in Kosovo, on voting against a plan to send U.S. military advisors and helicopters into the Third World jungle civil war in Columbia" Campbell said, "when I make a decision . . . it's on the merits. It's not for popularity. And I stick with it unless the facts change."

After his speech, which ended with an endorsement from the political wing of the National Taxpayers Union, Campbell won praise from keynote speakers U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and California's Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones. He was later feted at a reception hosted by former Rep. Michael Huffington, who narrowly lost to Feinstein in 1994.

While the state party's most conservative members still oppose some of Campbell's positions, they seemed to have warmed to his candidacy--certainly compared with their response early this year, when he was booed during a debate with more conservative Senate contenders.

"I don't think [conservative support for Campbell] is going to turn on issues," Phil Stump, the party's vice chairman, said after Campbell's speech. "I think Tom has an uphill battle because of name identification. . . . People just don't know him."

Bill Back, a leader of the party's Northern California chapter, agreed.

"While there are things I strongly disagree with him on . . . I think when conservatives look at what he stands for, many if them, if not most of them, will realize his stand is more supportive of their values than it is destructive."

Back added, "I may be wrong on this, but my sense is that the conservative wing of this party is starting to recognize that it has got to be willing to accept something less than perfect in order to move its agenda."

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