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Races for Senate, Governor Head Into Final Lap

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Summing up their closing statements for the 1998 campaign season, the four major party candidates for U.S. Senate and governor jabbed at their rivals and pleaded with supporters Saturday to search for every remaining vote.

Tension ran highest in the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Matt Fong, just as a new poll indicated that the contest is still too close to call.

For the first time, Fong launched a television commercial that directly attacks Boxer. And at a rally in San Diego, he joined Gov. Pete Wilson to promote Proposition 8, the education initiative that Wilson sponsored for the November ballot.

The Republican nominee also took a Halloween stab at his opponent by suggesting that Boxer is a liberal posing as a moderate.

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“I’m tired of this trick-or-treat style of politics,” he said. “I’m tired of Californians getting tricks played on them by politicians like Barbara Boxer. And now she says she’s tough on crime. That’s the scariest costume of all.”

Boxer returned the fire in San Francisco, ridiculing Fong for his complaints about the accuracy of her television commercials and condemning him as an out-of-touch extremist.

“Matt should grow up and learn to take the heat for his positions,” the freshman senator told about 150 supporters at the San Francisco Democratic Party headquarters. “He tries to be all things to all people.”

Also on Saturday, a statewide poll for the San Francisco Examiner by Mason-Dixon Political Research gave Boxer a narrow two-point lead among likely voters. A few days earlier, the independent Field Poll gave her a nine-point lead.

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Unlike the Senate race, public polls indicate voters are not so divided about their choice for governor. Democrat Gray Davis, striding with a front-runner’s ease through the Southland on Saturday, has scored a significant lead over Republican nominee Dan Lungren in several recent surveys.

Still, Lungren sought to rally GOP supporters in the Los Angeles area Saturday by saying his forecasters predict a down-to-the-wire finish.

“We are closing and we are closing this thing very, very fast,” he said at a GOP rally in Monterey Park. “On Tuesday, we should peak at the right moment, not a day before and not a day after.”

Lungren attended a breakfast rally in Baldwin Park on Saturday before moving on to events in Monterey Park and Long Beach, where he walked precincts and passed out Halloween candy.

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As he has recently, Lungren sought to stress the “clear distinctions” between him and Davis.

Lungren charged his opponent with being overly influenced by labor unions, particularly the California Teachers Assn.

“He cannot distance himself from their position,” Lungren said.

More broadly, the Republican candidate cast the stakes in this race as a choice that could decide each voter’s future prosperity.

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“Your tax bill, your neighborhood, your children’s school, your parents’ security will all be affected by the choices we make next Tuesday,” he said.

Davis issued a similar warning about the stakes. During a rally at Democratic Party headquarters in the San Fernando Valley, Davis used the most primal instinct--fear--to summon the faithful to the polls.

“If you like Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich, Dan Lungren and Pete Wilson, then just have a nice relaxing day on Tuesday, maybe vote, maybe not,” said Davis, invoking those names before an appropriately disdainful audience of about 200 volunteers. “But if you want a change, a new spirit . . . if you want to go forward rather than backward, you have a chance.”

Davis also used some of his harshest rhetoric Saturday, attacking Lungren’s opposition to abortion rights--"He doesn’t trust a woman’s right to make a choice"--his support by gun owners--"He does their bidding"--and his stance on the environment.

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Taunted Davis, “He never met an oil derrick he didn’t love.”

In addition to strong poll ratings, Davis’ campaign has been flush with cash in the final days. Last week, it donated money to other Democratic campaigns. On Saturday, aides said Davis will buy a $1-million television advertising blitz.

The strong finish also was reflected in supportive crowds.

Outside the party’s Crenshaw office, Davis walked a gauntlet of hundreds of cheering and clapping precinct workers, grasping their outstretched hands with both of his own. At one point, he raised his fists over his head and exclaimed, “My new slogan: Adios Pete Wilson!”

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Turning to education, Davis repeated his pledge to demand rapid changes for schools--one of this year’s top political priorities.

Last spring, Wilson set his sights on the same topic by sponsoring Proposition 8 to lock in funding for smaller classrooms, create a parent oversight panel at each school and a statewide office to monitor academic quality.

Both Fong and Lungren support Wilson’s plan, but until the governor’s appearance with Fong Saturday, neither campaign has embraced the measure as a vote-getting strategy.

Fong also used the occasion to lash into Boxer on education, criticizing her opposition to a voucher system and tax credits that would allow parents to send their children to private schools.

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“Barbara Boxer has voted to condemn children to failing schools time and time again,” he said.

Some Republicans have grown impatient with Fong, complaining privately that he has been too reluctant to attack Boxer. Until the new commercials Thursday, most Fong advertisements have shown the low-key candidate talking in general terms about his own views.

Asked whether he waited too long to “go negative,” Fong said: “Ask me Tuesday. If we win, I’ll be glad we held on. If we don’t win, I’ll say ‘Damn it, I wish we had started earlier.’ ”

Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Tony Perry and Dave Lesher contributed to this story.

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