CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : Primary Battles Take a Holiday of Sorts on Memorial Day

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

One of California's most disengaged primary election campaigns in memory heads into its final week this Memorial Day, barely noticed by most Californians--even when a candidate for secretary of state battered his foe with nice words.

In the contest for governor, five candidates, including incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, maintained a generally relaxed schedule Sunday and today, compared to past elections when candidates battled for every last possible voter at holiday rallies and in television ad blitzes.

The typical flurry of faxed press releases--usually the desperation vehicles for negative attacks at this stage of the campaign--dribbled to a trickle Sunday.

Still, two of them were a bit out of the ordinary.

In one, acting Secretary of State Tony Miller confessed that he had found it extremely difficult to run against an old friend, former Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, as they battled for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, along with Assemblywoman Gwen Moore of Los Angeles.

"In any case," Miller added in his public letter to Woo, "I do want to commend you for honoring your commitment you made when you announced to avoid running a negative campaign. . . . I think we have set a good example thus far on how campaigns should be run and I think Californians appreciate it."

Miller concluded: "Talk with you after this is over."

The other fax was a news release from the state Republican Party erroneously condemning Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California--who is not running for anything this year--for "wasting taxpayers' money on a White House wedding for her daughter."

"Mrs. Boxer is a classic perk-oholic," intoned state GOP Chairman Tirso del Junco, a Los Angeles surgeon. "Once again she has shown contempt for the taxpayers of California."

The release alleged that Boxer's daughter, Nicole, had been married Saturday to Tony Rodham, brother of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, "at an elaborate ceremony in the White House despite the extraordinary expense to the government."

However, the Clinton and Boxer families said they paid for the private ceremony and there was no cost to the taxpayers.

This Memorial Day was different from most campaign years, in that the primary election comes on the last day possible, June 7. Usually, the holiday is the final weekend of the campaign. This year, there is one more weekend to struggle through.

Even so, there was little sense that the campaigns were engaged head to head, as is traditional at this point in a California primary.

The weekend was also something of a letdown after a hectic week in which the three Democratic candidates for governor held three debates on consecutive days, Monday through Wednesday. And on Friday, Wilson and his conservative GOP challenger, Ron Unz, held a quickly arranged one-hour debate on radio from Los Angeles.

The candidate with the most active holiday schedule was Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the front-runner in the polls for the Democratic nomination for governor. Brown took a two-day bus run up the Central Valley, including Memorial Day talks to American Legion groups in Turlock and Modesto and a parade in Hughson.

Brown's final stop today was to be a picnic and kite-flying contest at a regional park in Lodi, south of Sacramento.

Brown's major foe, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, visited black churches in South-Central Los Angeles Sunday and met with community leaders assembled by Rep. Maxine Waters, a key black supporter.

Waters indirectly criticized Brown's campaign for taking the support of the black community for granted. She commended Garamendi for listening to her in contrast to "people who will not take me seriously."

Afterward, Garamendi went to Bakersfield to attend the National Basque Festival. Today, he scheduled a "Memorial Day news conference" in the city of Orange to "talk about victims of urban war."

Garamendi's long-awaited television advertising campaign was expected to start by the middle of this week.

State Sen. Tom Hayden of Santa Monica, the third major Democratic candidate, attended a black church Sunday and embarked on a walking and driving tour of Westside holiday gatherings to greet potential voters.

In the GOP campaign, Unz used radio talk shows to claim victory over Wilson in their radio debate Friday. Unz planned news conferences in Sacramento and Burbank for Tuesday.

Wilson was off Sunday. Today, he is scheduled to attend the dedication of Veterans Parkway at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards on the Westside.

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