Four hotly contested U.S. Senate primaries in California next year will put many of the state’s politicians on the spot. Will they wade into these internecine battles with endorsements and other assistance or remain on the sidelines until a nominee emerges?
Five of the San Fernando Valley area’s seven members of Congress have decided to take a stand in at least one of their respective parties’ two primary races. For some, the choice was easy; for others, it has meant opposing a colleague and even an ideological ally.
Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) are backing their longtime associate Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for the six-year seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), meanwhile, supports Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae) in the same primary.
On the Republican side, Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) have endorsed Republican Sen. John Seymour, who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to serve the remaining two years of Wilson’s term when he left the Senate to become governor.
And Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), one of the House GOP leaders, stops just short of such an endorsement. Thomas and Lewis each represent parts of the Antelope Valley.
In the Republican primary for the Cranston seat, only Thomas supports a specific candidate at this point, and he backs Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Palo Alto). Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), the dean of the state’s GOP congressional delegation, said he will refrain from taking a position on the primary races.
Levine has yet to announce his candidacy officially but has long been committed to running. He is a partner with Berman and Waxman in an influential Westside-Valley political alliance. The three have joined forces in support of Israel and on environmental and other liberal issues. Levine’s campaign is being run by Michael Berman, Howard’s brother and a prominent Democratic consultant, and his partner, Carl D’Agostino.
Beilenson, Levine’s neighbor to the north, has never been allied with the Waxman-Berman political operation. But the veteran lawmaker said he has long been personally and politically close to Boxer.
“She’s a good friend and a very effective legislator and I think she’ll make an extremely good candidate and a very effective senator,” Beilenson said. “We see eye to eye on most issues.”
None of the three Democrats has decided whether to endorse in the race for the seat held by Seymour. Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein is opposed by state Controller Gray Davis in the Democratic primary for Seymour’s seat. Davis, a former Los Angeles assemblyman, has been allied with Waxman and Howard Berman in the past, and Michael Berman and D’Agostino ran his reelection campaign last year. Howard Berman said he may eventually endorse in that race as well but is not ready to do so.
Among Valley-area Republicans, Gallegly and Thomas have lined up behind Seymour--who has sought to cast himself as a moderate in the Wilson mold--over Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), whose is challenging Seymour from the right.
“Bill Dannemeyer and I probably have a close voting record and philosophically we are probably very much in step, but my concern is taking on a viable Republican who has a good record and a good chance of holding that seat,” Gallegly said.
“With a statewide constituency, Seymour appeals to a much broader base than Bill Dannemeyer, or myself for that matter. The more conservative a member you are, the less attractive you are to the masses.”
Lewis said: “Being the Republican conference chairman, I am highly inclined toward John Seymour. But I haven’t crossed that line yet.” He said he was leaning toward Seymour particularly because he is Wilson’s appointee and faces a tough battle to win the election.
The other Republican primary--for the nomination to Cranston’s seat--pits moderate Northern Californian Campbell against Bruce Herschensohn, a conservative Los Angeles TV commentator.
Thomas has endorsed Campbell because his strong support in the business community and ability to win election in a competitive district indicate that “he has a good chance at a statewide constituency,” said Catherine Abernathy, Thomas’ chief aide. Campbell has supported Thomas on key issues such as campaign finance reform and defense, she added.
Gallegly described himself as “close friends with Tom Campbell” but more philosophically in sync with Herschensohn. Hence, he said, he is neutral in the race.
Lewis said that he had agreed to Campbell’s requests “to introduce him to a number of people, movers and shakers in my district.” But he also said he doesn’t plan to make an endorsement because “there’s a number of significant issues that we don’t agree on.” One of those issues is abortion. Campbell supports abortion rights; Lewis is anti-abortion.