Rivals for Gov. Run Parallel Races
In its closing days, the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination has evolved into two parallel contests.
There is the tawdry one seen by millions of Californians in TV commercials: a brawl between rivals Phil Angelides and Steve Westly over corruption and environmental misdeeds.
And there is the other one, more civil but less visible: the two men traveling the state, saying where they stand on schools, taxes, healthcare, immigration -- areas where a governor can make a difference in voters’ day-to-day lives.
With Tuesday’s election five days away, Angelides and Westly have opened new lines of attack this week in the TV ad fight, a clash that has often misled or, by some accounts, deceived viewers.
On Wednesday, Angelides started airing a spot saying that Westly was the “strongest ally” of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when the Republican was “cutting education, healthcare and aid for the disabled.”
But Westly did not, as the ad implies, endorse cuts to education, healthcare or aid for the disabled.
A new Westly ad says that the state sued Angelides and other developers for dumping 1 million gallons of sludge into Lake Tahoe, “jewel of the Sierras.” But there is no evidence that Angelides knew of the dumping.
A late spurt of positive ads has offered some respite from such assaults. But for the most part, both candidates have relegated talk about the direction they would take the state to personal campaign stops, which have nowhere near the reach of their attack ads.
At a time of voter disgust with public corruption scandals, analysts say, negative advertising could be particularly effective in a contest between two candidates who were little known before the campaign began.
“Everybody talks about how unpopular it is, and how they wish it wouldn’t happen,” USC politics and law professor Elizabeth Garrett said. “But in the end, polls and focus groups tell you that it works. And that’s why I think you will always see it in a campaign, and you will tend to see it in the end.”
Less noticed -- and less effective because of their narrower reach -- are the candidate stops at schools, factories, hospitals, senior citizen centers and scenic coastal spots.
On the Santa Cruz oceanfront, Westly, the state controller, pushed plans Tuesday to widen the use of solar energy and electric cars.
At a Salinas restaurant, where a crowd dined on enchiladas, tacos and refried beans, he described his plan to make community college free for many students as “the best investment we can make” in California’s future.
It was more of the same Wednesday in Thousand Oaks and the San Fernando Valley. At a Reseda community center, Westly told senior citizens eating ice cream of his support for stem cell research and legal access to prescription drugs from Canada.
For his part, Angelides, the state treasurer, broached race relations and his support for gay marriage during a talk Wednesday with Sacramento high school students.
And at Glendale Community College on Tuesday, he reminded students that he backs an increase in the minimum wage, new health insurance mandates for large employers and higher property taxes for “big corporations, to make sure they’re paying their fair share.”
Still, in remarks to reporters, each candidate has ripped into his rival over television ads. Each accuses the other of distortion and dishonesty in his advertising.
“The fact is, the ads that are being run against me are pure garbage, and Steve Westly knows it,” Angelides told reporters Wednesday at a picnic area on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.
With him were environmentalists who called Westly’s Lake Tahoe ad shameful and insulting.
The spot refers to the April 1989 dredging of silt from a Lake Tahoe marina at a 22-unit condominium project. The marina had become too shallow for some boats to moor.
Managers of the project broke pollution laws by dumping the spoils into the lake.
The state sued not just the project managers but also the owners of all 22 condominiums for the dumping, because each held a proportionate stake in the whole project. Angelides was part owner of one unit. Senior Angelides advisor Bob Mulholland said the candidate and other unit owners were “victims” of wrongdoing by the project’s managers.
“Westly ought to be ashamed of himself,” Mulholland said.
But the latest Angelides ad also omits key facts. It shows black-and-white photos of Westly and Schwarzenegger, in one case locked in a hug, as they campaigned together in 2004 for ballot measures on state debt. An announcer says, “California doesn’t need a Schwarzenegger twin,” referring to the governor’s nickname for Westly.
But nearly every top Democrat in the state -- and the party itself -- joined Schwarzenegger in urging voters to pass those budget measures, Propositions 57 and 58. Among them were U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, now co-chairwomen of the Angelides campaign.
Over the last few weeks, several other ads have been striking for, at the least, their lack of context. A Westly spot said Angelides “claims he’ll take on oil companies,” but he “has been hitting up those same oil companies for political contributions.” Westly, however, has taken $50,000 from the oil industry since his 2002 campaign for controller.
Westly’s chief campaign strategist, Garry South, said the ad was a response to Angelides’ trying to raise doubts about Westly’s environmental record in debates by citing his personal investments in oil stocks.
“This oil fight was brought on by Phil Angelides himself by trying to make Steve Westly look like a pimp for big oil, which was ridiculous -- utterly ridiculous,” South said.
One of the hardest-hitting Angelides ads shows a picture of a man in a suit and tie as an announcer intones, “This is Joe Cari. He’s a corrupt Chicago businessman who gave Steve Westly thousands in campaign contributions. Westly then steered public pension funds to Joe Cari’s investment company. Now Joe Cari has pleaded guilty to extortion in a pension fund scandal.”
“The main point,” Mulholland said, “is elected officials should not be using pressure to override professional staff when it comes to pension money.”
But Westly had no way of knowing that he was accepting campaign money from a “corrupt” businessman: Cari, once a top fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee and former Vice President Al Gore, was not indicted until long after Westly took the money.
Also, Angelides has himself referred campaign donors to state pension staff. And, like Westly, he sought campaign money from Cari before his indictment in a pension scandal that had nothing to do with California retirement funds.
“The ultimate hypocrisy,” South said, “is to put an ad on the air trying to tie your opponent to some crook whom you yourself were harassing for money.”
As for the overall tenor of Westly’s commercials, South said: “I don’t view these as negative ads. I see them as public service announcements.”
Angelides pollster Paul Maslin blamed Westly for setting off the ad battle by breaking his written pledge not to be the first to criticize his opponent by name in a television spot.
“People need to realize that one campaign made a very conscious choice to make it this way,” Maslin said. “Westly started it. What do you expect us to do, be passive?”
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Dan Morain and Robert Salladay contributed to this report.