State attorney general candidates Dan Lungren and Arlo Smith have yet to finish arranging their campaign debate schedule. But their campaign managers have gotten into a vitriolic public debate of their own this week concerning statements allegedly made during recent negotiations on a series of fall forums.
The war of words began when the Lungren camp issued a press release in which Republican Lungren's campaign manager, Brian Lungren, quoted Democrat Smith's campaign manager, Marc Dann, as saying that Smith would not participate in a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates because "Arlo just can't handle it."
Brian Lungren, the candidate's brother, also quoted Dann as saying that the former congressman "out-energizes Arlo up there. I have to have Arlo sitting down, with a moderator, and he can only go half an hour. You have to understand, Brian, I'm dealing with a 64-year-old man."
Dann reacted by calling Brian Lungren's quotes "fabrications" and questioning his ethics. "Lying is a very unethical thing," Dann said.
The Smith camp followed with its own press release stating that Brian Lungren had told Dann during the negotiations that Dan Lungren would not hold separate debates with Smith on three specific topics--the environment, abortion rights and prosecutorial experience--because "those are just not our issues."
Brian Lungren, a former Los Angeles police officer, later denied making that statement and said he would "put (his) professional reputation against (Dann's) any day." Lungren emphasized that Dann, an attorney from Ohio, drew a rebuke from Smith during the Democratic primary when it was revealed that he had contacted Smith's chief deputy to urge swift action in a politically sensitive investigation.
The verbal brawl served to further chill the already icy relationship between the two camps and threw into question the probability of fall debates between the contenders for the state's top law enforcement office. "I don't look forward to talking to (Brian Lungren) again," said Dann. "I will correspond to him only by writing right now."
Before the June primary, Smith and Lungren engaged in five moderator-free, Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, in which San Francisco Dist. Atty. Smith improved his statewide visibility in his race against better-known Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.
Dan Lungren, who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination, challenged Smith to continue the debates during the summer. But the Smith camp, citing limited public interest, said that further debates should be delayed until the fall.
Brian Lungren said this week that the candidates have agreed to appear on a 30-minute San Francisco TV news interview show in October but that Smith has thus far refused a head-to-head debate in Los Angeles.
Dann said that Smith prefers a "sitting-down, talk-show kind of format" because "this is the TV age and people are used to discussions of issues going on exactly like it is on (the) David Brinkley (show)."
Dann also claimed that he told Brian Lungren during the debate negotiations that the candidates should be seated "out of respect for Dan Lungren's chronic knee problems."
"If your brother's knees were bad enough to disqualify him for military service in Vietnam . . . we wouldn't want to tempt fate by forcing him to stand when it might endanger his health," Dann said he told Brian Lungren.
The Republican campaign manager responded that Dann's statement was a "a lie," pointing out that during the pre-primary debates, Dan Lungren, 43, had stood without any problem and without any concerns expressed by the Smith camp.