YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The State

Democrats Are Hoping for a Statewide Sweep

It would be a first for the party to take all five offices. The GOP has done it three times.

November 03, 2002|Dan Morain and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Heading into the campaign's final hours, Democrats had visions of pulling off something they've never done in this state: win all statewide offices.

Trying to avoid an election-day debacle, the state and national levels of the Republican Party have poured nearly $2 million into races for controller, secretary of state, insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor.

Democrats are all but certain to retain control of the Legislature. But campaign experts believe the GOP has a chance of gaining a seat in the state Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 26 to 14, and one or two in the Assembly, where Democrats hold 50 seats to Republicans' 30.

"If Republicans get a seat or two in the Assembly or Senate, and one or two constitutional offices, that is going to look like a tremendously successful outing for them," said consultant Darry Sragow, who oversees the Assembly Democrats' campaign. "It's kind of sad."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 05, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 12 inches; 439 words Type of Material: Correction
State politics -- Two stories in Sunday's California section incorrectly cited the last California election in which one party swept all the statewide offices. It last occurred in 1946.

So-called down-ballot races are overshadowed by a governor's race in which incumbent Democrat Gray Davis has spent $51 million this year and failed to pull significantly ahead of Republican Bill Simon Jr. That makes handicapping the down-ballot races, in which voters have little or no feel for candidates, difficult at best.

"A couple million people are going to polls Tuesday to vote for people they can't stand," Republican consultant Ray McNally said. "I don't know how that plays out."

Republicans have swept statewide offices three times, most recently in 1971, according to the secretary of state's office. Democrats are hoping that 2002 will be their first sweep. Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Treasurer Phil Angelides, both Democrats, are so confident of victories that they are saving their campaign cash and airing no television ads in the final days of the campaign. Other Democrats are not so confident.

Among the contested races, former Republican Assemblyman Keith Olberg is taking on Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) for secretary of state; Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz) is trying to unseat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante; and Republican Gary Mendoza, a former official in Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, is trying to block former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi from recapturing his old job.

In a state where retail politics, such as shaking hands with workers outside factory gates, is a quaint concept, candidates with the most money for television ads generally win. Statewide, Democratic candidates have more money than Republicans.

But in an effort to level the field, the state and national GOP shifted more than $1.2 million to Mendoza in recent days and have given six-figure sums to Olberg and McPherson.

The Republicans' best chance of victory is in the race for controller. Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), a loner within his own party, is being outspent by Democrat Steve Westly, a former EBay executive who is spending $5 million of his own money. Westly criticizes McClintock as being an extremist on social issues.

McClintock, who narrowly lost a run for controller in 1994, has sufficient money to air television spots in which a narrator with a Scottish accent portrays McClintock as tight with a dollar. Westly insists he would be independent of Davis. But McClintock is using opposition to Davis as the overriding theme of his candidacy.

"If you're going to have these massive budget deficits and Gray Davis as governor, you need Tom McClintock as controller," said McClintock's chief consultant, Wayne Johnson.

Consultants say voter turnout is a wild card. Secretary of State Bill Jones predicts 58% of the eligible voters will cast ballots. Several consultants believe that is optimistic.

"There is no anger," said a Democratic consultant, Gale Kaufman. "There is complete indifference. Voters don't like either [gubernatorial] choice. That doesn't make them angry. That makes them not want to vote."

Kaufman is managing Sen. Jack O'Connell's run for superintendent of public instruction, a nonpartisan office. O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) is opposed by Republican Katherine Smith, an Anaheim high school board member.

Among legislative races, interest groups are spending $6 million-plus on a San Joaquin Valley Senate contest in which Democrat Rusty Areias, Davis' director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, is running against Republican Jeff Denham. Denham has aired seven television commercials, most of which attack Areias.

In one of the more striking developments, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., in alliance with some Indian tribes that operate casinos, has spent more than $200,000 on an independent campaign to boost Libertarian candidate David Eaton. The campaign by the tribes and prison guards' union is aimed at helping Areias by peeling votes from Denham. Eaton, who opposes the prison guards' recent pay hike of as much as 37%, has disavowed the tactic.

Los Angeles Times Articles