As the four candidates for California’s two U.S. Senate seats stumped the state Friday in a last-minute push for votes, the close race between Barbara Boxer and Bruce Herschensohn took a bizarre turn after a Democratic official accused Herschensohn of frequenting a strip joint and an adult magazine stand.
In the other Senate race, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, her lead over Republican U.S. Sen. John Seymour holding, rallied supporters in Los Angeles and Imperial County, while Seymour met with Glendale officials and youngsters from an Armenian school.
The nonpartisan Field Poll published Friday showed liberal Democrat Boxer and conservative Republican Herschensohn in a virtual tie, she with 44 points and he with 43. Feinstein was 14 points ahead of Seymour among likely voters in the Field survey.
The Herschensohn campaign, meanwhile, got a jolt when a high-ranking Democratic Party official disrupted a Herschensohn appearance at City Hall in Chico and accused the candidate of frequenting Hollywood strip joints and adult bookstores.
A clearly shaken Herschensohn, who has embraced the GOP “family values” platform, at first refused to comment on the accusations, calling them “a pretty desperate thing.” But he later conceded that he once visited the Seventh Veil nude-dance club in Hollywood and that he has been a patron of several newsstands that--like most in Los Angeles--sell mainstream and sexually oriented magazines.
The party official who aired the allegations, political director Bob Mulholland, said he brought the charges to light because he considered it hypocritical behavior for someone who campaigns on family values.
Democratic Party leadership immediately distanced itself from Mulholland’s disclosures and the Boxer campaign also denied having any knowledge of the allegations.
Boxer spokeswoman Karen Olick said it was not a legitimate issue to raise. However, she added that she agreed it was “hypocritical for someone who’s campaigning on religious and family values to engage in this kind of practice.”
The developments came as the candidates crisscrossed the state in a full-court press to reach voters.
Feinstein used an appearance in Los Angeles to promote the entire Democratic Party ticket--Bill Clinton, Al Gore and especially Boxer, whose lead over Herschensohn has collapsed.
“It’s a one-two punch--a Thelma and Louise for California,” Feinstein told a cheering group of about 50 volunteers in reference to the state’s unprecedented possibility of sending two women to the U.S. Senate.
Feinstein also emphasized her traditional campaign themes of investing in America, creating jobs and establishing abortion rights as the law of the land. She spoke at her West Los Angeles headquarters, which was festooned with red, white and blue streamers and balloons saying, “Dianne for Senate.”
On the other side of town, Seymour spoke to about 50 local government and school officials in Glendale after a group of Armenian schoolchildren were led in a chant of, “Senator Seymour, Senator Seymour.”
Seymour criticized Feinstein for appealing for votes on the basis of gender. He said Feinstein wants to increase government spending--and that should weigh more heavily in voters’ minds.
“I think more women should be elected at every level of government,” he said, getting applause from the audience of city officials, a number of whom were women. “But let me tell you that we don’t need women elected to the U.S. Senate, or men for that fact, who want to raise taxes. We need women and men elected to the U.S. Senate who want to cut taxes and control spending.”
Boxer, speaking to about 400 college students crowded into an auditorium at San Francisco State University, urged young voters to become politically active in the next few days. She said college-age people are the “secret weapon” she needs to win the race.
“The polls are telling you the race is tightening,” said Boxer, who was flanked by comedian Chevy Chase and actress Dana Delaney. “It is.”
Herschensohn, capping a three-day, 14-city tour of the state, spoke to an afternoon gathering of College Republicans at UC Berkeley. Introduced as a man with “a lot of courage” to meet with the mostly liberal student body, Herschensohn sparred with a few shouting protesters but otherwise handled the crowd of 350 students--many of them hostile to his views--with calm and a wide smile.
About half of those in the crowd raised their arms in a mock Nazi salute when Herschensohn entered the auditorium, and many of them blew up balloons saying “Stop the Lies,” and “Bruce Pollution.”
By far the most bizarre sideshow in the long day of campaigning involved Herschensohn’s encounter in Chico.
Herschensohn had finished a speech to a group of supporters at the Chico City Hall and answered questions for about 20 minutes. As the event was winding down, Mulholland marched down a center aisle of the auditorium, waving a huge picture of the exterior of the Seventh Veil club.
“Should the voters of California elect someone who frequently travels the strip joints of Hollywood,” Mulholland called out to a stunned Herschensohn. “Can you answer that, yes or no?”
Herschensohn and his aides hastily retreated from the auditorium and boarded their plane, bound for its next stop in Redding.
To reporters accompanying him, Herschensohn at first said he would not “dignify” the accusations with a response. “If that is the kind of stuff they want to do, if that is the kind of tactics they want to use, let them. We are not doing that kind of stuff. We never have; I never would.”
Then the former television commentator, who has been divorced for years, sat quietly for a long time, eyes downcast, shaking his head. Finally, he turned to his press secretary, mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” and summoned reporters again.
Herschensohn said he chose to speak because his silence could be misinterpreted that he did something “terrible.” He then said he had been to the Seventh Veil--but only once and with his girlfriend. And he said he frequents several newsstands that sell a wide variety of publications. Pressed by reporters about whether he bought adult magazines, Herschensohn became irritated.
“This is really getting silly,” he said. “I buy magazines. Are you asking me do I buy dirty magazines, is that what you’re asking me? I am going to stop answering right now. If I picked up a Penthouse, is this going to be a crime? I have a question. What are they doing following me for this length of time? Why would they know these things?”
Mulholland, who has spent much of the campaign season trailing Republicans to their news conferences and events, said in a later interview that he “blew up” at Herschensohn for talking about “traditional values.” He said he interviewed workers at the Seventh Veil on Sunset Boulevard and at the Centerfold Newsstand on Fairfax Avenue and found confirmation that Herschensohn was a regular customer.
A manager at the Centerfold Newsstand told The Times that Herschensohn was a regular customer and that he purchased news and political magazines as well as adult publications. About three-quarters of the newsstand’s inventory is mainstream newspapers and magazines and a quarter is adult magazines, employees said.
Phil Angelides, chair of the state Democratic Party, immediately denounced Mulholland’s actions, saying the aide would be punished. “This was not authorized,” Angelides said.
Later, in a news conference after a rally at Berkeley, Herschensohn again faced questions about Mulholland’s charges. He described the Seventh Veil as a “cocktail place” and said that “to the best of my memory” the women there kept their clothes on.
“For an official of the Democratic Party to suddenly show up with two photographs, as though this is going to be blackmail, of the exterior of a newsstand and exterior of a nightclub, and push it in front of my face . . . is one of the lowest things that any person in politics can do.”
The Seventh Veil does not serve cocktails, and Friday afternoon several of the women dancers were nude. The establishment charges a $9 cover fee, and the front door is shrouded by a heavy black curtain through which customers must pass.
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition that is supporting Herschensohn as an “outspoken advocate for family values,” described the incident as “a very laughable last-minute smear orchestrated by the Boxer campaign.”
“I personally know Bruce, and to me, it is not within his nature to visit pornographic bookstores. He is an honorable, moral, upright man who does not use pornography. . . . Bruce supports strong anti-pornography legislation.”
While Herschensohn has not emphasized family values in many of his speeches, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Republican Party platform and has received support from the religious right. “What we are saying is, this is our value,” he said earlier this year at the GOP convention in Houston. “This is a tradition that is terribly important and should take precedence.”
In other election developments, Secretary of State March Fong Eu predicted Friday that turnout in Tuesday’s voting would be heavy, reversing a 28-year trend of declining voter participation.
Eu estimated that 74.9% of California’s 15.1 million registered voters would vote, an increase of 2% over the turnout in the last presidential election in 1988. A 74.9% turnout would translate into about 11.3 million Californians voting either at precinct polling places or by absentee ballot.
The California record for a presidential election was 88.4% of registered voters in 1964, the last time a Democratic presidential nominee carried the state.
Democrats are hoping a large turnout will help them take the state by large margins for Clinton and Feinstein and carry Boxer through as well. Democrats outnumbered Republicans about 2-to-1 among the 1.5 million new registrants added to the voter rolls between May and October.
Times staff writers Bill Stall and Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.