GOP Hears Wilson Lash McCarthy

Times Staff Writer

Sen. Pete Wilson, in a harsh, personal attack on Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, castigated his Democratic rival Saturday as a “stealth liberal” and a “finger-in-the-wind politician” who has reversed his stance on important issues.

Speaking in his hometown before the state Republican Party convention, Wilson assailed McCarthy for abandoning his long-held opposition to the death penalty. Wilson also accused McCarthy of reversing field and favoring “Star Wars,” the proposed space-based missile system the lieutenant governor once called a “cockamamie” idea.

“What we have here is a candidate who is like an old car with a new paint job,” Wilson said in a keynote address at the convention. “Somehow the engine just keeps missing. It’s the same old clunker underneath the new paint.”

Wilson’s escalation of campaign rhetoric is part of the Republican senator’s effort to keep McCarthy from making inroads among more conservative voters, who are likely to play a key role in deciding the Nov. 8 election.


In response, McCarthy spokesman Kam Kuwata asserted in an interview that Wilson was resorting to personal attacks because the GOP senator is concerned that McCarthy is gaining on him in the polls. Wilson’s 21 percentage-point lead over McCarthy earlier this summer has shrunk to somewhere around 10 to 14 points, he said.

Wilson “is probably getting a little nervous about the polls,” Kuwata said. “As he flails along and makes personal attacks, it’s going to hurt him even more.”

Kuwata acknowledged that McCarthy changed his position on the death penalty several years ago. The reversal was a “personal” decision that came after long and careful deliberation, he said.

“It’s a decision he did not make with his finger to the wind,” Kuwata said. “It’s a decision he took very seriously and had a change of heart.” On the “Star Wars” issue, Kuwata said McCarthy had made a “misstatement” last week when he said he would favor an increase in research money for President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.


Conservative Posture

Kuwata said McCarthy has criticized SDI and has advocated diverting $1 billion from the project to fighting drugs. But at the same time, Kuwata contended that the lieutenant governor has consistently supported a $3-billion level of funding for SDI research.

Nevertheless, Wilson took advantage of McCarthy’s statements on “Star Wars” and the death penalty to brand the Democrat as a liberal who is trying to wear conservative’s clothing.

“Leo McCarthy is a finger-in-the-wind politician who is seeking to determine what the shifting winds of political favor” will bring, Wilson told an estimated 1,000 cheering Republicans.


“The proper symbol for Mr. McCarthy, it seems, is a weather vane, one that keeps shifting in the wind. These days, he’s shifted so many times so rapidly that that weather vane is virtually spinning. The man can scarcely tell where he is,” Wilson said.

At another point, Wilson said of McCarthy: “He has so many second thoughts one would guess he has very few first ones.”

In particular, Wilson accused McCarthy of proposing to take billions from SDI and spend it on a variety of other programs.

The senator indicated he was stung by McCarthy’s latest television commercial that portrays him, Wilson said, “as being a corrupt tool of polluters.”


The ad attacks Wilson for voting against toxic clean-up, clean water and asbestos removal in schools. The senator said the votes McCarthy selected do not accurately represent his record and insisted he has strongly supported environmental legislation.

To counter the McCarthy ad, the Wilson campaign will begin airing its own commercial highlighting Wilson’s opposition to offshore oil drilling and support for preserving California wilderness and wild rivers.