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California and the West

Feinstein, Campbell Fight It Out on the Air

Politics: The senator says a face-to-face debate will be scheduled, but the challenger accuses her of hiding.

September 24, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although a face-to-face showdown remains unscheduled, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Campbell, are squaring off in an old-fashioned venue: radio.

Six weeks before election day, Feinstein has launched her first political advertising since the primary, a 60-second radio spot that will run on stations in the Central Valley at a cost of more than $100,000, according to her campaign.

The ad, playing from Bakersfield to Sacramento, features a man and a woman discussing Feinstein's endorsements by law enforcement groups and the nonpartisan California Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.

Campbell will also be on the airwaves. Beginning today at 9 p.m., the San Jose congressman will host three hourlong Sunday evening town halls broadcast on AM and FM stations across the state, including KFI-AM (640) and KLSX-FM (97.1) in Los Angeles.

The dueling spots come at a time when Feinstein, far ahead in the polls, is waging about as low-profile a reelection campaign as any incumbent could envision.

This month, with the Senate back in session, her campaign anticipated that the second-term senator would spend most of her time in Washington, D.C. Then, a handful of scheduled appearances in Monterey and Los Angeles had to be postponed when she suffered a compound fracture of her left knee in a fall at her vacation home in Aspen, Colo.

Any day now, said her campaign manager, Kam Kuwata, a decision will be made on what to do about Feinstein's medical condition. "I don't know if that means surgery or no surgery or . . . when," he said.

Although September has come and almost gone with no campaign events by Feinstein, her opponent has been traveling throughout the state. Struggling for better name identification, Campbell has spent about as much time in California as on the floor of Congress.

Feinstein's camp points to Campbell's poor attendance record as a liability and insists that the senator's primary obligation is to cast votes, not make campaign speeches.

"Sen. Feinstein believes her first responsibility to the voters of California is to be in the Senate," Kuwata said. "If [Campbell] wants to be critical and say she is afraid of him or ducking him because she is voting, we will take that criticism."

Campbell counters that he is obliged, as the challenger, to mount a viable campaign.

"I take it as an obligation that I was sent to run for the Senate by voters," he said.

In recent weeks, Campbell has stepped up his challenge to Feinstein to debate, declaring that she is hiding from joint appearances.

Feinstein and her campaign maintain that a debate will occur--most likely in mid- to late October. No date has been set.

Veteran Republican consultant Ken Khachigian views that strategy as troubling, if not surprising.

"I think it is insulting to think that you can waltz through a campaign," said Khachigian, who last served as a senior consultant to the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"If you look at it in raw political terms, she could probably avoid debating during the entire campaign and probably still win. But what does that tell you about her attitude toward the voter?" Khachigian asked.

Then again, he acknowledged, "If I were in the same position, I'd . . . probably" do the same.

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