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Uneven Image Stalks Bradley as Aides Seek Clearer Goals

Times Political Writer

Even true believers cringed at Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s off-balance performances recently. Campaigning for governor, he has left behind questions about what he wants to accomplish if elected, about his command of detail, and about whether he is in step with his own advisers.

“It looks to me like they’re on the march--backwards,” shrugs one disappointed Bradley loyalist.

With new public opinion polls showing him falling behind in the race, Bradley’s advisers hope the mayor’s campaign is due to rebound.

“Campaigns are a process which have ebbs and flows,” said campaign Chairman Tom Quinn. “It is impossible to predict an election this many months beforehand. . . . The month of March will go down as our roughest, but I’d rather have a rough March than a rough October.”

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Almost overlooked these days is the fact that Democrat Bradley does have a strategy, if an incomplete one. He thinks Californians really don’t know his opponent, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian--and that this blank canvas can be filled in with an unflattering portrait as the months unfold.

This belief, coupled with mean old grudges brought to life by this electoral rematch, help explain why Bradley seems most comfortable when he is firing grapeshot, and why 1986’s gubernatorial campaign headlines are dominated with verbs such as: “assails,” “hammers” and “slams.”

“There is an impression the governor has not been visible,” Bradley said by way of explanation. “It took him 2 1/2 years before the people of this state ever really got a chance to see him anywhere. And then, only when he’s prodded and pressured into responding to criticism, has he finally come out from behind the curtain.”

” . . . He’s got three years of a record now and that’s going to be the subject of criticism and public attention and attack.”

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Bradley then reaches stride.

“Absolutely abominable, unacceptable!” he says of Deukmejian’s decision to wait and watch before deciding whether to oppose or support the retention election of Supreme Court Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso.

“Duke-nothing, say-nothing, care-nothing governor and we’re going to get rid of him!” Bradley says of the governor’s record on worker safety.

“The biggest polluter in the history of this state!” he says of Deukmejian’s record on sewage.

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“A ship adrift without a captain!” he says of the governor’s handling of public lands.

“A make-believe leader!” Bradley says of his opponent.

And so on.

Deukmejian, all the while, is dishing it back as fast and almost as harshly as he gets it. And the governor has raised nearly seven times as much money as Bradley.

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And then there have been the occasions in which Bradley wanders from his attack strategy and seems to veer into trouble.

Most recently, this occurred when he went to Sacramento prepared to talk about his long and difficult decision to neither endorse nor support the reelection of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

For two previous days, this decision dominated news coverage of the mayor. To try and direct at least some attention away from that touchy subject, Bradley opened his capital press conference by recounting a pledge to protect Northern California environmental resources before seeking to transport any larger quantities of water to the south.

At first to his delight but later to his chagrin, Bradley almost completely escaped questions about Bird. But he faced a press corps versed in the complexities of government and the explosive politics of water. His halting, vague answers about important details of water development brought a response that was critical, to put it mildly. An Associated Press account began this way: “Contradicting himself repeatedly, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. . . .”

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In his eagerness to stay on the attack, Bradley also has contradicted himself on occasion.

One time, after repeately branding Deukmejian a fiscal “scrooge,” the mayor attacked him in a speech as “the biggest spender in California history.”

And, despite all the hard feelings between the two men, Bradley recently told the Sacramento Bee that he felt snubbed by the governor. “It would just seem that any governor, I don’t care what his party is, would have some reason to ask the mayor of the largest city in this state to join with him, to assist him in some program affecting the people of this state. But not this governor.”

Two senior advisers, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, attributed Bradley’s problems to an uncomfortable meshing of the mayor, his City Hall staff, a still new campaign operation and the task before them.

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Said one: “Everyone is out of step.” Said the other: “The process is moving more slowly than Bradley would like. He would like to be in a full-fledged campaign right now and is frustrated at the pace.”

Perhaps most significantly, there apparently is deep disagreement among Bradley associates over how soon to present his platform of programs, his vision of the future.

“They have decided to hold back, that people aren’t interested yet, and that may prove to be a big mistake,” said one close but critical Bradley adviser.

Quinn argues for waiting: “We’re going to have to tell that story. It’s of equal importance with Deukmejian’s record. . . . But campaigns are funny things, you have to marshal your resources. The object is not an early lead; the object is to win.”

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