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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS ’92 : U.S. SENATE : Women’s ‘Golden Moment,’ Boxer Says

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Thousands of candidates--from the President of the United States down to the newest local office seeker--stumped California for votes Saturday, but Senate hopeful Barbara Boxer said women in particular look toward Tuesday’s primary election as “an enormous golden moment in history.”

Tuesday will be a landmark election as California voters nominate candidates for both U. S. Senate seats in the same election for the first time since statehood in 1850.

But appearing at a rally on Los Angeles’ Westside, Democrats Boxer and Dianne Feinstein said the day would be even more memorable if their party picked an all-female slate of two to face Republicans for the two-year and six-year Senate seats at stake in the fall.

“You have a chance to make a difference,” said Feinstein, the former San Francisco mayor and the 1990 Democratic nominee for governor. “Barbara Boxer and I have a chance to make a difference.”

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Also on Tuesday, voters will choose party nominees for an expanded 52-seat delegation in the U. S. House of Representatives--the largest ever of any state--all 80 state Assembly seats, half of the 40 state Senate seats and an array of local offices and ballot measures.

Expansion of the House delegation from 45 members and redistricting of all House and legislative seats based on the 1990 census is expected to bring about the most sweeping change in those legislative bodies in more than a quarter century.

In addition, Californians will vote for candidates seeking their party nominations for President.

On Saturday, there seemed to be some respite in the flurry of new and increasingly negative television ads the Senate candidates aired in the past week amid charges and countercharges of lying and maligning character.

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But Senate candidates Bruce Herschensohn and Sonny Bono teamed up again at Los Angeles radio station KFI to assail Rep. Tom Campbell of Palo Alto, their foe in the Republican primary for the six-year Senate seat held by Democrat Alan Cranston.

With Campbell calling in by car phone from the Central Valley, Bono, the former Palm Springs mayor, said: “Tom, you are an elitist bureaucrat. That is the problem.” Campbell did not respond.

Female solidarity was the keynote of this sun-splashed Saturday for about 500 Southern California women and a scattering of men who attended a rally sponsored by the National Organization for Women at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles.

At the conclusion, Boxer and Feinstein--who never have been especially close, politically or personally--linked arms while the crowd chanted: “Just Won’t Do! 98 and 2.”

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That was a reference to the makeup of the U. S. Senate: 98 men and two women--Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas and Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

In her speech, Feinstein seemed to endorse Boxer’s candidacy for the six-year seat against fellow Democrats Mel Levine, the congressman from Santa Monica, and Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy of San Francisco. Feinstein had maintained a fine-line neutrality by saying that past ties to the two male candidates made it impossible for her to back Boxer formally.

Two years ago, Boxer angered Feinstein by supporting John K. Van de Kamp for the Democratic nomination for governor, calling him the “best feminist” in the race. But Boxer worked for Feinstein in the general election campaign, which ended in a narrow loss to Republican Pete Wilson. This year, Boxer has endorsed Feinstein over her major opponent, state Controller Gray Davis of Los Angeles. All year, Feinstein and Boxer have been nagged by questions about the chance of two women winning the Democratic nominations for the two Senate seats and, if they did, their prospects against the GOP in the fall.

Feinstein asked her audience: “Will the people of California vote for two women?”

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“Yes!” the crowd responded.

Should the people of California vote for two women?”

“Yes!” they yelled again.

And then Feinstein, never counted among the leaders of feminism, added: “Can we, if we stand together, be true sisters in the fight for equality and can we begin to make some changes?”

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“Yes!”

Afterward, reporters asked if Feinstein’s words and actions on stage had amounted to an endorsement of Boxer’s candidacy.

“No, no,” she said in a low, quiet voice. But then she paused, smiled wryly and said, “It came pretty close, didn’t it?”

Nor did Boxer consider it an endorsement. Even so, she said of the expression of unity: “I feel terrific about it. I think what it says is that both of us realize there’s an enormous golden moment in history here and that we could both play a part in it. And it’s wonderful.”

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Feinstein is considered the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination for the two-year Senate seat. The need for the election occurred when Wilson resigned from the Senate in January, 1991, to be sworn in as governor. Recent polls showed that moderate Republican Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim--appointed to the office by Wilson--held a substantial lead for the GOP nomination over conservative Rep. William E. Dannemeyer of Fullerton and government professor Bill Allen of Claremont.

The polls also have indicated that Boxer, Levine and McCarthy are in a close contest for the nomination to succeed Cranston for a full six-year term. Likewise, Campbell and Herschensohn have been in a neck-and-neck contest all year for the GOP nomination, though Campbell edged ahead with a 10-point lead in a Los Angeles Times Poll 11 days ago.

The theme of the NOW rally, which also was addressed by candidates for the House, Legislature and local offices, was that the election of women will bring needed change on a broad scale in government, not just on specific issues such as abortion.

Boxer told reporters: “This is an extraordinary opportunity for California to say it is tired of the status quo. We want people around the table who truly understand what the message is all about, who understand the pressures on our families, our children, our education system, our environment, on jobs. That’s a very powerful message California can send.”

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Television commercials continued to play a major role in the campaign as Feinstein and Boxer were asked to comment on ads.

Feinstein was asked about the Davis commercial that compared her failure to properly report 1990 campaign fund raising and expenses to the federal felony conviction of New York hotelier Leona Helmsley. Boxer was asked about her ad accusing Levine and McCarthy of accepting campaign contributions from the scandal-plagued savings and loan industry.

Feinstein said: “I don’t understand what he (Davis) is doing. It’s like someone would run an ad and take Gray Davis and David Duke and say they’re both white, both lightheaded men, there must be some connection.”

Duke is the onetime Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessful Republican campaigns for governor of Louisiana and President.

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Boxer said she had to run her ad to counter commercials drawing attention to the overdrafts she wrote on the now-defunct House bank, saying: “If you’re attacked like that, you have to fight back.”

Feinstein, McCarthy and Davis planned to make traditional campaign visits to Los Angeles-area churches today, primarily in heavily black areas. Boxer planned similar stops in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Levine campaign, continuing its focus on fund raising and television ads, did not announce any public events for today.

Times staff writer Dean E. Murphy contributed to this story.


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