Senate Race Turns Vitriolic in Its Waning Days

Times Staff Writers

With the contest for the U.S. Senate nearing its end, the campaign has grown increasingly vitriolic as each candidate seeks to cast doubt on the personal qualifications of the other.

On the campaign trail Friday, Democratic challenger Leo T. McCarthy repeatedly questioned the “values” of his opponent, Sen. Pete Wilson. And the lieutenant governor charged that Wilson is an “eager handmaiden” of big corporations.

McCarthy himself has been on the receiving end of even harsher language. On Thursday, Wilson called McCarthy “the bag man for special interests as Speaker of the Assembly"--a label that has raised McCarthy’s hackles.

“I hope that Sen. Wilson and I, in the waning days of this campaign, would not lose control of our tongues,” McCarthy said. “ ‘Bag man’ carries an innuendo of corruption. I think it was a very unfortunate choice of words by Sen. Wilson and I think he lowered himself when he used the term.”


Tired of Charge

For his part, Wilson has clearly tired of McCarthy’s relentless charge that he is a senator for the rich.

On Friday, he accused McCarthy of engaging in “1930s-style class warfare” and of “making threadbare timeworn speeches about soaking the rich on taxes.”

Wilson was responding, in part, to McCarthy’s latest televised campaign commercial. The ad will receive more air play between now and Election Day than any other message in McCarthy’s electronic arsenal, according to McCarthy staff members. The commercial scores Wilson for favoring tax policies that benefit the rich.


“Pete Wilson voted to make middle-class families pay more taxes so that people making over $200,000 a year could pay less. . . . Millionaires are supporting Pete Wilson.”

‘1,500 Millionaires’

Campaigning outside a San Diego elementary school Friday morning, McCarthy charged that Wilson voted in 1984 to reduce the inheritance tax for “1,500 millionaires.” At the same time, he contended, Wilson voted against reducing the income tax marriage penalty, which would have meant $150 a year for a family making $30,000.

“That is a statement of your values,” McCarthy said.

But George Gorton, a Wilson adviser, accused McCarthy of misconstruing the senator’s record. Wilson often voted with Democratic members of the Senate and, in the case of the marriage penalty, voted with the majority of the Senate in 1986 to give a tax break to married couples.

“He’s mischaracterizing votes,” Gorton said. “They are not votes to favor the rich over the poor.”

At a press conference in Westminster, Wilson defended the tax and economic policies of the last eight years, arguing that they have helped people in all walks of life, and said politicians, like McCarthy, who ignore those gains should be “rewarded by being rejected” at the polls.

Wilson, however, is leaving his anger at McCarthy out of his last commercial. Clearly designed to emphasize a senatorial demeanor, the ad presents Wilson in a paneled office summing up the main themes of his campaign.


“We can keep America strong so peace is secure. We can make America drug free and cut crime in half. We can keep producing jobs with child care at a pace the world has never seen before. We can cut spending for the less important things to hasten the cure for AIDS, Alzheimers disease and cancer.”

Poll Shows Lead

Wilson goes into the final weekend of the campaign leading by a comfortable margin, according to the most recent California Poll.

Conducted this week, the poll showed Wilson leading by 14 percentage points, 50% to 36%. McCarthy aides said their own polls show a much tighter race.

In San Francisco Friday, McCarthy charged that Wilson had paid to put his name on a misleading campaign slate mailer sent out to voters in the Los Angeles area. The Wilson campaign quickly disavowed the mailer.

Headed with the phrase, “Your Los Angeles Democratic Team,” the mailer recommends a vote in favor of the GOP senator without identifying his party. And it calls for a yes vote on Proposition 102, the sweeping AIDS initiative that both McCarthy and Wilson oppose.

The mailer, prepared by a group called Republic Communications, says that Wilson approved the use of his name and paid a portion of the cost.

But Gorton said the senator’s name was used without his permission. He suggested that payment for the mailer may have come from a third party who made a contribution in Wilson’s name without his approval.