CAMPAIGN JOURNAL : Boxer’s a Prime Contender in Bout to Succeed Cranston


With U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston caught in an ethical mire and growing older all the while, liberal Hollywood has undertaken a star search for a Democratic alternative--a ready successor if Cranston founders.

And the first contender to set the town’s political hearts jumping is a 4-foot, 11-inch fireball of a politician from the northern San Francisco Bay Area.

The issue, says Rep. Barbara Boxer, is excitement. “I think it’s been a while since we’ve had any in politics. Hasn’t it?”


“If and when I walk into the United States Senate, it’s going to be a symbol--a symbol for women, for the environment and of new priorities. It’s going to be exciting.”

The 49-year-old Boxer, who represents Marin County and a portion of San Francisco, is the most forthright and furthest along of a half-dozen or so ambitious Democrats who are trying to gauge their strengths against Cranston’s weaknesses for a primary election that is 2 1/2 years away, in June, 1992.

The four-term, 75-year-old Cranston, with many friends and IOUs in the Democratic Party, is vowing a bloody stand against any upstarts with designs on what he calls “my seat.”

“We’re not giving up on Cranston, but no one is particularly confident he will survive either,” said one influential and politically active Hollywood attorney, who asked to speak anonymously. “So you look around. And Boxer is the one with the buzz right now.”

In an interview, Boxer said a nine-week exploration of the race encourages her. “If things continue to go the way they are so far, I’m going to do it. . . .

“This is an important year for me, because it’s assessment time. . . . I’m out meeting as many people as I can, getting them excited and enthusiastic. And then we’ll see if they will make a commitment.”


As for Cranston, she just shakes her head.

“Sad,” she said, perhaps a touch melodramatically. “He’s got to look at what the people feel. He’s got to accept that.”

Cranston, of course, faces continuing trouble for his association with Charles H. Keating Jr. Keating is the one who gave Cranston $47,000 in campaign contributions and another $850,000 for voter registration drives. Cranston then intervened in federal regulation of Keating’s Lincoln Savings & Loan, which has since gone bankrupt. About 22,000 California savers lost $200 million in the collapse, and taxpayers may be their only hope for restitution.

Beyond Cranston’s woes, Boxer supporters think her timing is right.

The issues that she pursued with zeal for eight years in Congress and six years as a Marin County supervisor have exploded as Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the resurgent Democratic Party agenda--feminism, environmentalism and global peace.

“When you think of the issues of concern to this town, it’s a pretty good fit,” says Margery Tabankin, executive director of the powerful Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. This is the liberal group of show-business leaders and stars that has raised millions of dollars for U.S. Senate candidates--Cranston among them.

The committee, which met with Boxer last week, is at pains to emphasize that it has not endorsed her.

But among women in particular, Boxer inspirits political excitement.

“She is a woman’s woman,” said one charter member of the committee. “But then again, she is a man’s woman if you understand what I mean.”


Women remember Boxer as the firebrand leader of 1989’s congressional efforts to provide Medicaid-funded abortions to rape and incest victims--an idea vetoed by President Bush. “That was the breakthrough for me here, there is no question. That’s what started the excitement,” Boxer said.

For all the excited talk in Hollywood, Boxer faces enough challenges to inspire a roomful of long-odds bookies. She is virtually unknown in the rest of Southern California, and she is not familiar with many of its particular problems.

Her take-it-or-leave-it liberalism, which works well among true believers, could be exploited as a vulnerability among centrist voters. She is not regarded as much of a fund-raiser. Some Democrats believe she lacks appeal to minority voters; the party’s more Establishment constituencies, including business men and women, often find her strident.

Among her potential Democratic rivals are two other members of Congress, Reps. Robert T. Matsui of Sacramento and Mel Levine of Santa Monica, both of whom are better fund-raisers and more solidly connected to the Establishment. Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. also is on everyone’s “short list” of potentially formidable Senate challengers.

Add to that Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who continues to harbor ambitions for the Senate. San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos has begun to show a higher statewide political profile. Additionally, Walt Disney Co. President Frank G. Wells is the subject of speculative rumors.

The lineup could not be more to Boxer’s liking. Yes, she smiles, all these rivals have strengths and followings. But then, too, they are all men.


Meanwhile, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas are the only women in the Senate.

And “that’s ridiculous,” Boxer said.