Hoping to extend President Clinton's problems to a fellow Democrat, Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren lashed out at opponent Gray Davis on Saturday in his most scathing terms to date, essentially accusing Davis of lacking the integrity to be governor.
Lungren's criticisms, delivered at the state Republican Party's weekend convention in Long Beach, were unfailingly acidic.
He accused Davis of refusing to take a principled stand on Clinton's sexual transgressions because he needs the president's fund-raising skills to finance his campaign. He asserted that Davis has changed his tune on important state issues to curry favor with voters.
In his most explosive remarks--echoed in a new television ad that began running this weekend--Lungren accused Davis of insulting the memory of Kimber Reynolds, the Fresno woman whose death inspired 1994's three-strikes legislation. The ad features Mike Reynolds, who pressed unrelentingly for legislation to lock up repeat felons for life after his daughter was slain.
"Davis owes all of California an apology for his shameless efforts to claim title to three strikes," Lungren told hundreds of Republicans lunching at the Long Beach Convention Center. "He has no right, he has no right whatsoever to besmirch the memory of Mike Reynolds and his daughter."
A Davis spokesman, Michael Bustamante, said the candidate supported a more lenient version of the three-strikes measure than the one approved by voters. Davis would have required a felon's third strike--which mandates a life sentence--to be a violent crime. As it stands, any felony can suffice.
Bustamante called Lungren's ad "a desperate act by a desperate candidate."
The Davis-endorsed version of the three-strikes law was also supported by the state's district attorneys. But Lungren said that group does not owe Californians an apology because it has not represented itself as a backer of the current law. Davis "says he fought for three strikes," Lungren said. "That's an absolute untruth. . . . We know who was there. We know who was never there."
Lungren's exhortations were meant to rally the Republican faithful for the election less than six weeks hence. As they gathered this weekend, state GOP members were hopeful that Clinton's problems would depress voter turnout among Democrats and give Republicans a boost at the polls.
Amid Clinton Scandal, a Circus Atmosphere
Many Republicans, however, believe that Lungren continues to lag in the governor's race--a conclusion supported by most polls--and they are starting to worry that U.S. Senate nominee Matt Fong might provide the state party's best shot at success. Current polls have Fong in a dead heat with Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer.
Asked the mood among party leaders, one GOP strategist termed it "resigned"--at least as far as the governor's race is concerned.
"The mood is different between grass-roots activists and party professionals," the strategist said. "The grass-roots activists and perhaps the Lungren campaign as well think it's a neck-and-neck race, but the professionals, based on the polls they're seeing, are deeply concerned."
Notwithstanding that undercurrent, the convention took on circus-like proportions Saturday, largely because of the hubbub in Washington. Demonstrators chanting for the president's impeachment--complete with signs bearing pictures of peaches--gathered outside the convention center. Inside, retailers appeared to be doing a brisk business in anti-Clinton regalia, including a T-shirt modeled by a life-sized cardboard cutout of Clinton. "So many interns . . . so little time," the shirt said.
And there were the usual dissonant notes present at many conventions. Even as Lungren and other speakers--most notably 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp--issued clear calls for racial inclusion, party leaders refused to disavow a mailer sent out by the state party that castigated liberal Democrats with pictures of Latino legislators and the headline: "Their agenda could ruin your future."
State party Chairman Mike Schroeder said the mailer portrayed legislators because of their positions, not their race. The only whites on the mailer were Boxer and Clinton. Although the item did include some Latinos who are not Democratic leaders, it did not include the pictures of white legislative leaders.
Lungren said he had not seen the mailer. "I don't know anything about that," he said, adding that "I put my money where my mouth is" by campaigning in Latino areas of the state.
Party Battle Over Abortion Continues
Also raising its head during the convention was the party's continual battle over abortion. Party leaders were hoping to table a measure that would have denied party backing to candidates who refused to endorse a measure outlawing late-term abortions.
The state party organization wanted the convention's business to remain largely bland this weekend so the focus would be on the Republican candidates for statewide and legislative offices, many of whom were circulating Saturday and holding rallies. And chief among them was Lungren.
In his afternoon speech, he referred to Clinton's "abuse of power" and drew a sharp comparison between Davis and other Democrats, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who have criticized the president.
"Have we seen that kind of courage from Gray Davis?" he asked, as his audience answered a unanimous "No!"
"In fact, when Bill Clinton was here last month to raise millions of dollars for my opponent, Gray didn't just take the money and run. He earned it the old-fashioned liberal way--he pandered for it," said Lungren, citing a compliment uttered by Davis at the time.
As Lungren noted, Davis was also campaigning with Clinton on Saturday, appearing with the president at a private fund-raiser in Beverly Hills to benefit the national party. Bustamante said there are no plans for Clinton to raise more money for Davis before the election.
Lungren also ticked off a list of Davis positions that he said run counter to the will of California--his support of 1990's "Big Green" environmental initiative, his reluctance to overhaul the state's education system, his absence from several statewide fights to strengthen the hand of crime victims groups and prosecutors. He said Davis had changed his views on other matters, such as a capital gains tax, to appear more moderate to the electorate.
It was all part of Lungren's effort to characterize Davis as outside the state's mainstream--an effort returned in kind by Davis.
"It's easy to remake your political identity in an election year," Lungren said. "But that's not me. What you see is what you get. . . . You may not always agree, but you'll always know where I stand."
Today, the party's focus will shift to Fong, who is due to deliver the major address of the day. Later, the party is expected to finalize its views on a number of resolutions, including one dealing with Clinton's future.