Wilson Blasts McCarthy on Many Shifts of Positions

Times Staff Writer

Sen. Pete Wilson Monday described his opponent, Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, as a man so driven by political expediency that he has changed longstanding, heartfelt positions, lurching from left to right on issue after issue.

“Whether it was the death penalty, or whether it was school busing, whether it was the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf, or whether or not there should be wiretapping in the state legally, he has involved himself in one change of position after another,” Wilson said Monday at a press breakfast in Sacramento.

“The fact is Mr. McCarthy has literally talked from both sides of his mouth, and the record is replete with that,” Wilson said.

Compared With Dukakis


Wilson’s remarks renew the dyspeptic tone of a campaign that both candidates admit has grown mean-spirited, as each man strives to undermine the stature of the other.

Wilson compared McCarthy unfavorably with Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, saying that while Dukakis now is willing to stand up for his liberal convictions, McCarthy is not.

“There was a time not too long ago when Mr. McCarthy, who represented an Assembly district in San Francisco, was an unabashed liberal. Perhaps the problem is he has become confused about where he stands,” Wilson said, adding that McCarthy these days is “a man who is tiptoeing around on a mission of expediency.”

"(Wilson) is a hypocrite,” said Roy Behr, McCarthy’s director of research.


Behr said Wilson has changed his position on abortion, selling AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia, on the nuclear freeze and on pardoning Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and former National Security Adviser John Poindexter.

Wilson’s campaign staff hints broadly of recurring attacks on McCarthy’s credibility during the waning days of the campaign, though they acknowledge that there are risks to the strategy. Wilson’s aides, keenly aware of the senator’s short temper, want him to be able to make a strong case against McCarthy without sounding venal.

Keeping It ‘Senatorial’

“Remember, you have to keep it senatorial,” Wilson’s campaign manager admonished the senator as the two men discussed strategy on a plane from Los Angeles to Sacramento Sunday night.

After his attack on McCarthy in Sacramento, Wilson was more upbeat later Monday in a speech to San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club.

“I style myself as a compassionate conservative,” Wilson said.

By that he said he meant someone willing to cut federal spending on farm commodity subsidies, Amtrak and congressional newsletters in order to have more money to spend on finding cures for AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer.

Wilson closed his speech with a subject that has been a favorite of his all year in San Francisco--the controversy over making the city the home port of the USS Missouri.


Arguing that the ship’s presence would stimulate up to 4,000 new jobs in a depressed area of the city near Hunter’s Point Shipyard, where the Missouri would be anchored, Wilson delights in disdaining McCarthy’s opposition to the plan.

Money Issue

“Why is it that he wants those jobs to go to Honolulu or San Diego or some other city (where the ship would be based if not in San Francisco)?” Wilson asked.

McCarthy has said he is opposed to putting the Missouri in San Francisco because the money it would take to provide necessary support for the ship would be better spent on improving pay and benefits for members of the armed services.

Wilson, who hopes he can lure labor support away from McCarthy in San Francisco, does not accept McCarthy’s explanation for opposing the ship’s basing in San Francisco.

The ship is capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and Wilson said that McCarthy is opposed to its presence in San Francisco because “he is beholden to a small but vocal group of radical anti-nuclear activists.”