CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Feinstein on Defensive With TV Ad Opposing Quotas

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Democrat Dianne Feinstein opens her general election television advertising campaign in a defensive mode today with a 30-second commercial that claims she has always opposed the use of quotas in the hiring of women or minorities for public jobs.

Feinstein campaign officials declined to say how much the ad would cost or how long it would run.

The ad responds to Republican Pete Wilson's own commercial that if Feinstein is elected governor, she will fill state jobs "on the basis of strict numerical quotas. Not experience, not qualifications, not ability . . . but quotas."

The flap stems from Feinstein's pledge in May that if elected governor, she would appoint women and minorities to state jobs in parity with their numbers in California. While Feinstein did not use the term "quota," it was widely interpreted as a quota-like system and Wilson seized on the issue.

Political observers, including many Democrats, thought Feinstein made a major tactical error in the way in which she issued the affirmative-action pledge. A recent Los Angeles Times Poll showed a resistance among state voters to hiring quotas, and Feinstein has repeatedly had to explain that she is talking about "goals" and not quotas.

In fact, Wilson had an affirmative-action program while he was mayor of San Diego. But he insisted--as has Feinstein--that the hiring goals for women and minorities never were intended to take precedence over merit and qualifications.

It is somewhat surprising that Feinstein decided to go on the air so early with costly television advertising. The Democratic nominee still is trying to replenish her campaign treasury after the costly primary campaign, and finance reports this week showed her campaign with little cash as of June 30.

One interpretation of the decision to go on the air was that she felt Wilson's use of the quota charge is hurting her and she is trying to defuse the issue early in the general election campaign.

The defensive commercial is in sharp contrast to the dramatic one that launched her primary election campaign in January.

That ad illustrated her take-charge ability in assuming the leadership of San Francisco after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone in 1978. It helped define Feinstein to the Southern California electorate, and her shaky and tentative campaign took off from there, resulting in her decisive defeat of Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp in the June 5 Democratic primary.

Wilson, with a big campaign bankroll, launched his first television ads for the general election immediately after the primary. His first ad noted that Feinstein once called him "wonderful" for helping her with a San Francisco problem in Washington. Other ads promoted Wilson's record on fiscal conservatism and environmental protection and attacked her on the quota issue.

The Wilson quota ad began running in mid-July.

During the course of a four-year term, a governor makes more than 2,000 appointments. They range from top staff and Cabinet members down to scores of part-time board and commission members.

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