Figuring she would never win the endorsement of the state Democratic convention's liberal-leaning delegates, Dianne Feinstein chose to antagonize them Saturday--flaunting her support for capital punishment.
"Yes, I support the death penalty. It is an issue that cannot be fudged or hedged," the candidate for governor said in her address to delegates.
A gale of boos drowned out the last words of her sentence, and the racket continued for nearly 30 seconds as she stared, unblinking, into the eye of cameras recording the scene.
The former mayor of San Francisco later held a press conference and rubbed in the fact that the convention delegates are one of the few identifiable segments of society with a strong bent against capital punishment.
"I think I am more mainstream than has been the philosophy of the Democratic Party; I think I'm a lot tougher on crime," she said.
Indeed, The Los Angeles Times Poll has found that delegates oppose capital punishment 3 to 2 while Democratic voters in general favor it 3 to 1.
Feinstein's showy confrontation was one unexpected development Saturday as the campaign's war of the airwaves came down to earth and she and her rival, John K. Van de Kamp, stepped from behind their million-dollar television commercials and faced the party rank and file.
For the first time in 77 years, thanks to a new legal opening, the Democratic Party of California was to vote today on a possible endorsement. But the 60% majority required by party rules was deliberately designed to make it tough.
Feinstein, who has never really participated before in state party affairs, said she never expected to earn that kind of support from the delegates.
It was not all quarrelsome for Feinstein, however. With the help of a 160-person rooting section of observers, which her campaign brought into the convention at a cost of $35 each per ticket, she was cheered heartily when she spoke of her candidacy.
"Today, for the first time, a woman stands before you as a candidate for governor. . . . Let's make history," she said.
In his address, Van de Kamp received only ho-hum silence when he turned to capital punishment--which he says he personally opposes but will carry out under California law. "Yes, I think that some of us disagree with the death penalty," he said. "But I respect the fact that the people have spoken."
The state attorney general earned his share of cheers, though, with a rendition of good old fashioned, crowd-pleasing Democratic principles--health care for the poor, job safety for workers, shelter for the homeless and devotion to the environment.
Van de Kamp said he hoped to receive better than a majority vote of the delegates today but probably not the 60% needed for an endorsement. "I have said all along we would do well to receive half," he said.
Although they could not resist a couple of digs at each other, Feinstein and Van de Kamp for a change saved most of their vinegar for U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, the leading Republican candidate.
Van de Kamp: "If we want to change California, we must defeat this man who will ride to battle clothed in the power of the status quo and armed with the money of the special interests."
Feinstein: "In nine years (as mayor) we balanced nine budgets--a record George Bush and Ronald Reagan only wish they had. And let's look at Sen. Pete Wilson. In seven years as a senator, he voted seven times for unbalanced budgets."
Beleaguered Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston's speech was generally well received by the convention, although occasional heckling could be heard in the convention hall.
As he has repeatedly, Cranston declared his intent to stay in politics and seek reelection in 1992 despite the continuing investigations of his assistance for Charles H. Keating Jr., head of bankrupt Lincoln Savings & Loan and a major Cranston political contributor.
"I will not turn tail," he said.
The convention, which began late and fell hours behind schedule, lumbered into the late afternoon before beginning the first of two debates for candidates seeking offices below the governorship.
All five major Democratic candidates for state insurance commissioner promised to meet the terms of the insurance reform Proposition 103 and eliminate rate differentials based on where a driver lives. Such a move would certainly result in reduced insurance costs in urban areas but perhaps at the expense of suburban and rural motorists.
The compressed format of the debate allowed only the shortest "sound bites" of thoughts. A sampling:
From state Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), who has ignored most previous debates. "I have a 16-year record as a problem solver."
Conway Collis, a member of the State Board of Equalization and the candidate favored by the chief sponsor of Proposition 103. "I won't be fair to an industry that's unfair to Californians."
Walter Zelman, former director of Common Cause. "I've spent my political life representing people who couldn't afford lobbyists."
Television commentator Bill Press. "There isn't one special interest I haven't taken on. I've even taken on the Pope."
Ray Bourhis, a dark horse but persistent campaigner and a lawyer who represents claimants against insurance companies. "We need new passion. . . . We need new blood. . . . We need someone who knows this industry."
Garamendi gave part of his time to a sixth candidate who had not been scheduled to participate because he is not considered to be a major candidate. Alhambra Councilman Michael Blanco used the time to note that he is the only candidate to support no-fault auto insurance to reduce insurance rates: "My slogan is this--vote for Blanco for no fault. Anyone else and it's your fault."
In the first ballot Saturday night, none of the insurance commissioner candidates won the 60% majority required for endorsement. The results were not immediately released, but a second ballot was scheduled for today among the top finishers.