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THE STATE

GOP Challengers Concede Nothing to Democratic Incumbents

Though the Republican candidates for attorney general and treasurer are running behind in funding and polls, they remain optimistic.

October 29, 2002|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Up and down the line, from the governor's race to the contest for insurance commissioner, Republican candidates are trailing their Democratic opponents in poll numbers and campaign cash with just a week until the Nov. 5 election.

It's a familiar story for California Republicans. But many GOP activists say they haven't given up hope of pulling off some election surprises.

The disparities between well-funded Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers are graphically illustrated in the campaigns for attorney general and treasurer. But the Republicans in both races -- state Sen. Dick Ackerman, the GOP candidate for attorney general, and former Public Utilities Commission President Greg Conlon, running for treasurer -- say they aren't conceding anything yet to their heavily favored opponents.

Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, the incumbent Democrat, led Ackerman 49% to 31% among likely voters in The Times poll released today. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

Lockyer's fund-raising lead was even more lopsided: The incumbent reported $7.74 million in campaign cash on hand as of Sept. 30, compared with $30,439 in the war chest of his Republican opponent, according to state campaign disclosure reports.

In the treasurer's race, incumbent Democrat Phil Angelides led Conlon 42%-33% among likely voters polled by The Times, with 24% undecided. Angelides reported $6.34 million in his campaign war chest as of Sept. 30, compared with $39,193 reported by Conlon, according to state reports.

Down-ballot races typically don't kindle much excitement. But party officials, political strategists and pundits are keeping a close eye on Lockyer and Angelides because they are seen as leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006.

Lockyer, 61, and Angelides, 49, have established themselves as front-runners in the 2006 race "by putting themselves out there on issues," said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

Each has staked out high-profile issues in his respective office. Lockyer has taken aim at corporate malfeasance; Angelides has made California's pressing infrastructure needs a centerpiece of his message.

Ackerman, however, says another issue dominates every statewide race: Gov. Gray Davis. He contends there is a building voter backlash against the Democratic governor because of alleged links between campaign contributions and policy decisions -- links that Davis says don't exist.

Charge, Counter-Charge

"I think the mood of Californians toward Davis and the Democratic administration is [negative], as it should be," said Ackerman, 59. "They're killing business in this state and people are starting to see that."

Killing business is a charge that Ackerman also levels at Lockyer.

Making his case mainly on talk-radio shows, Ackerman says Lockyer has been more interested in pursuing such corporate giants as Microsoft than in prosecuting gangs and other common criminals. He accuses Lockyer of wasting resources by taking on developers in local disputes, "because he wants to play his environmental card."

The Republican candidate also accuses Lockyer of lacking legal experience and failing to investigate the fund-raising allegations raised by Davis critics.

Lockyer brushes off the criticism, pointing to his record as a state legislator and his past four years as attorney general -- "the most satisfying job I've had," he said in an interview.

Lockyer says his accomplishments include pursuing "energy pirates" responsible for soaring electricity prices, strengthening crime prevention strategies and upgrading the state criminal laboratory system.

He makes no apologies for having made environmental protection a central theme of his tenure as attorney general, noting that one of his first acts was to broaden the state's role in a dispute that resulted in the banning of most self-propelled water skis from Lake Tahoe. He similarly defends his pursuit of a high-profile case against Microsoft's business practices.

"I know you can't be pro-job and anti-business," Lockyer said. "We want to prevent illegal business practices from providing an unfair advantage against their honest business competitors."

Lockyer also insists that he isn't turning a blind eye to allegations of links between Davis' policy decisions and campaign contributions.

"The only thing that is worse than not prosecuting criminal behavior is prosecuting someone who is innocent for political reasons, and I won't do that," Lockyer said. "We're going to be very thorough and respond to these charges, even though they certainly sound like campaign rhetoric at first analysis. If we find evidence of a crime, we'll prosecute them."

Treasurer's Contest

In the treasurer's race, Angelides -- a former Sacramento developer -- says his achievements include work on a high-speed rail bond and school bonds and the creation of a low-interest loan program for teachers in tough urban schools.

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