President Reagan, trying to keep Republican control of the U.S. Senate, held what he called his last campaign rally Monday--a political extravaganza that he hopes will nudge GOP Rep. Ed Zschau to victory today over Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston.
Philosophical, sentimental and politically upbeat, Reagan showed 10,000 people at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa what a real major-league campaign rally is all about. The show featured sky divers, the inflating of a giant helium-filled "Statue of Liberty" balloon, a live elephant strolling through the crowd, firecrackers and singer Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the U.S.A." as the grinning President and his wife, Nancy, held hands on stage to deafening cheers.
There also was vintage Reagan storytelling and nostalgia. "It's great to be home in California. And isn't it a great time to be an American?" he said at the start of his address.
And turning more serious at the end, Reagan spoke particularly to the high school and junior college students who made up half of the audience.
"Who knows, perhaps many years from now, when you have children or grandchildren of your own, one of them will ask you about a November day long ago when a fella named Dutch Reagan came to town for 'the last campaign,' " he said. "And should that happen--since I won't be able to myself--I hope you'll tell them for me that I said it wasn't true, that there are really no last, no final campaigns; that each generation must renew and win again for itself the precious gift of liberty, the sacred heritage of freedom.
"Please tell them for me that I always thought being an American meant never being mean or small, or giving in to prejudice or bigotry; that it did mean trying to help the other fella and working for a world where every person knows freedom is both a blessing and a birthright."
This rally, as much as anything else, was a celebration of Reagan's political roots and American patriotism. The President mentioned Zschau's name three times, but really only in passing, and never once mentioned the name of his longtime political nemesis: Cranston.
The political low-key nature of the President's address on Monday was in sharp contrast to the searing denunciation of Cranston that he delivered on Saturday at a Zschau fund-raising luncheon. "There's no love lost between the two," noted Stuart K. Spencer, the political adviser who has been closest to Reagan over the years.
The deep bitterness between Reagan and Cranston dates back 20 years, to Reagan's first gubernatorial campaign in 1966. Cranston then was running for reelection as state controller and confident of victory, so he barnstormed the state for months trying to portray the former Hollywood actor as a tool of the extremist right-wing John Birch Society. Reagan and Cranston never have patched up their differences since that initial campaign.
Cranston's steady anti-Reagan rhetoric 20 years ago was credited with having led to his own defeat, by less than one percentage point. "Cranston went out of his way to dump all over him (Reagan) in '66," recalled Ken Khachigian, a veteran Reagan speech writer who also now is a top political adviser to Gov. George Deukmejian. "The boss (Reagan) is a pretty competitive guy. He's got his hat set to take out Cranston. And if Zschau wins, the President can take a lot of credit for it. He's energizing the (conservative) base."
Spencer, based in Irvine, estimated that Reagan's two campaign visits for Zschau on Saturday and Monday "can be worth a couple of points" for the GOP candidate. "It helps drive (get out) the vote. There is apathy out there," Spencer said.
Republican strategists predicted that Reagan's campaigning for Zschau would be particularly effective in Orange and San Diego counties, where conservative Republicans have been cool toward the party nominee, regarding him as often disloyal to the President in his House voting.
Seeking to enhance Zschau's conservative credentials, the candidate's advisers arranged for him to be introduced at Monday's rally by television commentator Bruce Herschensohn, his chief conservative rival during the Republican primary.
Actually, virtually every Republican candidate within driving distance--including all of the statewide candidates--were on the stage Monday to be politically embraced by Reagan. Deukmejian, a former legislative ally of Reagan, introduced the President by noting that "he has chosen this place, this day, this moment for his last rally on behalf of his presidency."
For Reagan, the rally wound up 24,839 miles of campaigning for Republican Senate candidates since Labor Day. In the campaign's final week, he stumped for candidates in 10 states--twice each in Nevada and California.
Democrats need to pick up a net four seats to take control of the Senate during the last two years of Reagan's presidency. Republicans now hold a 53-47 advantage, but of the 34 Senate seats at stake today, 22 are held by the GOP. The Cranston-Zschau race, regarded as extremely close, could decide which party controls the Senate during the next Congress.
Quoting Winston Churchill pleading for American military assistance just before World War II, and applying those words to his own need for a Republican Senate during the remainder of his presidency, Reagan urged the Orange County crowd: "Give us the tools and we will finish the job."
There was a lot of audience participation in this presidential address, especially from the flag-waving, constantly cheering students. At one point, Reagan talked of his pride in the U.S. military and how "thanks to them, every nickel-and-dime dictator around the world knows that if he tangles with the United States of America, he will have a price to pay." Somebody then shouted out clearly, "Kick their butts, Ron." And the crowd immediately erupted into chants of "U.S.A.--U.S.A.--U.S.A."
Another time, Reagan remarked, "You know, I used to be a Democrat myself." Some people mockingly moaned, "Noooooo." The President shook his head and said, "Yesss. Until I learned that the liberal leadership of that party had become completely out of step with the hard-working and patriotic men and women who make up the Democratic Party."
That was about as political as it got for the President on Monday.
California polls are open 13 hours today, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.