CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Huffington Attacks Rival on Judges : Challenger says in new ads that Sen. Feinstein has voted for two lenient federal jurists. But her campaign counters that the judges' records have been distorted.

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Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington stepped up his attack on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's anti-crime record Thursday, broadcasting a new television commercial that says she has voted for lenient federal judges.

Huffington's ad criticizes two judges Feinstein supported for the federal bench, saying they have been soft on crime. But in both cases, the commercial omits information that contrasts with the ad's claims.

In one example, the commercial charges that a Feinstein-supported judge opposed capital punishment more than 100 times--"even more than Rose Bird," California's controversial former chief justice.

But proponents of the Florida judge, Rosemary Barkett, said that she has also upheld death sentences more than 200 times. Legal analysts defending the commercial for the Huffington campaign disputed that figure, but they acknowledged that Barkett may have upheld more death sentences than she opposed.

In a second example, Huffington's ad complains that Feinstein supported New Jersey Judge Lee Sarokin even though he once freed a "cop killer." But the defendant's conviction for killing a police officer was overturned because the prosecution withheld pertinent evidence. A retrial is pending.

"Feinstein judges let killers live after victims died," the ad says.

Feinstein supporters said Huffington distorted the judges' records to paint an inaccurate picture of the senator's crime record.

"I think congressman Michael Huffington underestimates the sophistication of the people of California," said the Rev. Cecil Murray of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. "They have a very good b.s. meter, and the meter is registering pretty high with Mr. Michael Huffington. . . . He takes a little bit of something to (make) the mass media create mass hysteria."

Feinstein supporters contended that Huffington was attempting to counter the endorsements given to the senator recently by a dozen prominent California police groups. And they said the Republican candidate was attacking Feinstein's crime record because he does not have one of his own.

"It's always easy to attack someone who has a record," Los Angeles City Atty. James Hahn said. "Huffington has never been there to support law enforcement."

Feinstein serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she is required to vote on President Clinton's nomination of judges to the federal bench. House members, including Rep. Huffington (R-Santa Barbara), do not vote on judicial appointments.

Huffington's new television commercial expands an advertising campaign about Barkett that he began this week in newspapers and on radio commercials. In doing so, he brings to California a highly partisan debate over the two judges that has been raging in Washington.

Barkett's approval by the Senate followed a six-hour debate in which conservatives attacked the judge's record on capital punishment. Still, she was approved by the Senate in April, 61 to 37, for a seat on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Barkett won the votes of eight Republican senators including the only GOP member from her home state of Florida, Connie Mack.

Sarokin's nomination has not reached the floor of the Senate. But he was favored by Feinstein last month in a 12-5 vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sarokin's support on the committee was also bipartisan, including former Philadelphia Dist. Atty. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) and William S. Cohen (R-Me.).

In other Senate campaign developments Thursday:

* Feinstein released a list of 75 Republican supporters, including some prominent business, law enforcement and agricultural leaders. Some names on the list have been disclosed previously. The new additions include Orange County developer Kathryn Thompson, a former member of President George Bush's elite Team 100, and actor Clint Eastwood.

* Feinstein's campaign confirmed that the senator has contributed $400,000 of her own money to her campaign. Feinstein said last week she was talking to banks about leveraging her home and a beach house to help pay for the campaign.

* Both campaigns confirmed that their first debate will be held Thursday on the "LarryKing Live" television program. The one-hour broadcast will be on CNN beginning at 6 p.m. in California.

Political Scorecard

39 days to go before Californians go to the polls.

THE GOVERNOR'S RACE

* What Happened Wednesday: Democrat Kathleen Brown told students at San Jose State that Gov. Pete Wilson has devastated the state's educational system by raising tuition, curtailing proposed college loan programs and failing to promote a vision for the future. She also announced plans for a new offering of California savings bonds to help future students pay for college. Wilson remained in his Sacramento office in the midst of a marathon bill-signing session.

* What's Ahead: Brown's campaign declined to release its schedule. Wilson's campaign said he will spend the day in Sacramento, where a deadline for signing or vetoing legislative bills looms at midnight tonight.

THE SENATE RACE

* What Happened Wednesday: Rep. Mike Huffington began airing a new television commercial that criticizes incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein for supporting what he termed lenient judges. Feinstein replied by releasing endorsements that made her day, from movie tough guy Clint Eastwood and 74 other prominent Republicans.

* What's Ahead: Today both candidates will remain in Washington, where Congress is in session.

NOTABLE QUOTES

"We are almost out of voter registration cards. There are, at least, a lot of people out there attempting to register voters."

--Melissa Warren of the secretary of state's office, which has printed extra cards and sent out 750,000. Those who want to vote in November must register by Oct. 11.

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