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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : SENATE : Feinstein Ad Focuses on Ties to State : Senator’s campaign hopes to undo damage done by barrage of GOP attacks and remind voters that opponent Mike Huffington moved to the state in 1991.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein sought Thursday to start repairing the damage done to her public image by months of Republican attacks with a new television commercial that reminds voters of her California roots and her work on their behalf.

“Born and raised in California, her work has touched all of the people of our state,” the ad begins.

Since early spring, Feinstein has been the target of millions of dollars in attack television commercials broadcast by her Republican challenger, Rep. Mike Huffington (R-Santa Barbara). As a result, the race has tightened and the percentage of voters with a favorable opinion of the senator has dropped from 59% in a Field Poll in February to 47% last month.

Huffington’s attacks tried to capitalize on an anti-incumbent mood in the electorate by portraying Feinstein as a liberal big spender and a Washington insider, beholden to powerful special interests.

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In Feinstein’s new commercial, the senator is described as a fighter, seeking solutions to urgent problems such as crime and the economy.

“From leading the fights to stop illegal immigration with more Border Patrol agents, ban assault weapons, get guns out of our schools, put more police on the streets and expand the death penalty--she’s fighting for us,” a narrator reads, while the video shows snapshots of a smiling Feinstein with constituents, officials and supporters.

“From her courageous votes for the balanced budget amendment and for the largest deficit reduction in history, she’s fighting to create jobs and get California’s economy growing again,” it continues.

There is a dual message in the commercial’s reference to Feinstein’s California roots. Her campaign team hopes to remind voters that Huffington moved to California from Texas in 1991.

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Most of the public safety issues in the commercial refer to an anti-crime bill that is pending in Congress. She has also introduced separate legislation that would add guards to the border with Mexico.

Feinstein’s vote on deficit reduction refers to her support of President Clinton’s 1993 economic package--the same vote that Huffington has portrayed in his commercials as a tax increase.

The two Senate campaigns have recently entered a cease-fire in their television wars after more than seven weeks of nonstop back-and-forth video attacks that began shortly before the June 7 primary. Today, both campaigns are broadcasting statewide commercials about themselves.

Feinstein’s new commercial is the first one that she has issued that does not attack Huffington.

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In the meantime, sniping between the campaigns continued off-screen with a fresh exchange about debates.

Both sides have agreed to debate, but are arguing about who will make the arrangements.

Feinstein has appointed a member of her staff to discuss dates, places and formats with the Republican campaign. But Huffington on Thursday sent the senator a videotaped message, which he made available to television stations through a satellite link, in which he repeated his demand that Feinstein and he discuss the issue directly.

“If you give me a call sometime today, I’ll arrange my schedule so that I can be over and discuss it with you,” Huffington said in the video message. “Just let me know when and I’ll be there.”

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Feinstein’s campaign manager offered a written response.

“Sen. Feinstein asked me to respond to your videotape as she is busy working to undo the damage done by your vote last week to kill the crime bill,” campaign manager Kam Kuwata wrote. “We believe members of Congress were elected to deal with issues like this, not spend time haggling about whether the opening statement of a debate should be 60 seconds or 90 seconds long.”


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