Sidebar: Feinstein ad looms large in California campaign lore

In the annals of California political advertising, a Dianne Feinstein TV commercial known as “The Grabber” is in a league of its own.

Feinstein first used it in 1990 when she was running for governor. It had such impact that a front-page story in The Times declared: “No matter how the volatile race for governor turns out, that ad is already headed for a permanent place in campaign lore.”

The story described the ad this way: It is the Nov. 27, 1978, press conference at which Feinstein took charge of San Francisco after announcing that Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been assassinated by an angry former supervisor.

The angle of the TV camera is from somewhere below and in front of the crush of grim-faced people surrounding Feinstein at the post-assassination press conference. She looks taut but calm as she says, “Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot . . . and killed.” There are groans. A woman screams. The ad’s narrator then intones, “Forged from tragedy, her leadership brought San Francisco together...”


There were questions about whether the ad would backfire, and some grumbled it was in bad taste. But the consensus was that it showed Feinstein as a take-charge leader.

Feinstein won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson. But she was victorious in a 1992 run for the Senate.

More from the California section:


Harris has been laying the tracks for a Senate race for a long time