The "Inside Politics" Interview: The California Governor's Race
April 13, 1998
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: In California, the Democratic gubernatorial nomination appears to be up for grabs. A new "Los Angeles Times" poll of likely voters shows Congresswoman Jane Harman leading with 24 percent in the June 2nd primary, businessman Al Checchi gets 2 percent and lieutenant governor Gray Davis 13.
By some accounts, the Democratic race for governor is California's closest in at least 24 years. That fact and "The L.A. Times" poll numbers drive home the power of campaign ad spending, early and often.
ANNOUNCER IN CHECCHI CAMPAIGN AD: He's the grandson of immigrants.
ANNOUNCER IN HARMAN CAMPAIGN AD: Three terms in Congress.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): It is a war of television commercials unlike any other in California campaign history.
ANNOUNCER IN CHECCHI CAMPAIGN AD: Al Checchi -- bold new ideas.
WOODRUFF: Democratic political newcomer Al Checchi has sold himself to California voters by spending a record $15 million so far on campaign ads. "The L.A. Times" poll shows two-thirds of the state's electorate have seen the wealthy businessman's TV Spots, exposure that has pushed up his support from virtually nothing last October.
Checchi had the campaign ad field all to himself until another deep-pocketed Democrat made a late entry into the governor's race.
ANNOUNCER IN HARMAN CAMPAIGN AD: Jane Harman -- a rare combination of business and government experience.
WOODRUFF: Congresswoman Jane Harman has also spent her way into contention for governor, with almost $5 million worth of ads. The blitz has helped Harman soar past the third Democrat in the race, Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis.
Davis hasn't launched an ad campaign yet because of his more limited resources. Analysts say he is likely to pick up support when his spots start running and voters sharpen their focus on the June 2nd primary.
WOODRUFF: The contest to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Pete Wilson has special significance that goes beyond the campaign ad blitz and California's size, wealth and electoral clout. The winner will sign or veto congressional and legislative redistricting lines in the year 2001.
With all that in mind, let's talk about the race with Phil Trounstine, political editor of the "San Jose Mercury News," and Dick Rosengarten, publisher and editor of "California Political Week."
Dick Rosengarten, to you first, is money what's making all the difference so far in this Democratic race?
DICK ROSENGARTEN, CALIFORNIA POLITICAL WEEK: Oh, I think so, absolutely. And one of the things that's really most interesting is that Al Checchi, who does not identify himself as a Democrat in all of these ads, he's been beginning to get a lot of support from Republicans.
And consequently, the Republicans are quelling for Dan Lungren, "Get on the air! Get on the air!" And so far, no Lungren on television because like Gray Davis he has to raise money the old- fashioned way. He doesn't have deep pockets.
WOODRUFF: Well, let me put the same question -- I want to get to Lungren in a moment -- but in terms of the Democratic contenders, Phil Trounstine, is money the only thing that's really making a difference here?
PHILIP TROUNSTINE, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: At the moment, Judy, it's the most important dynamic in the race. Neither Harman or Checchi was known to anybody in California a very short time ago. Now six or seven Californians out of 10 knows who they are.
They're in a dead heat virtually. Harman is a little bit ahead among the likely voters, and Checchi may be a little bit ahead among the voters at large. But it's sort of -- it's really amazing what's happened. They've just spent enough money to make themselves known.
WOODRUFF: So could you just say right now that whoever spends the most money is certain to win, Dick Rosengarten?
TROUNSTINE: I don't believe that's true.
ROSENGARTEN: I think so either.
TROUNSTINE: The reason I don't think that's true is I think there's some dissidence in some of the messages. I think that Checchi, for example, began attacking Harman with some of his ads as soon as the polls showed that she went ahead, and I think his negatives went up because of that. I think that's a problem for him.
I'm not sure that -- I'm not sure you can buy an election in California. I don't think Checchi, Harman -- or Harman -- can do it.
Certainly, that's going to be the pitch that Gray Davis is going to make when he gets on the air. He's going to say the other two are trying to buy the election.
ROSENGARTEN: And he goes with this slogan that it's experience that money can't buy, which is pretty darn good. He's gotten every major endorsement that there is -- organized labor, all the police unions. Clearly, he's the favorite among rank and file Democrat organizations and Democratic legislators. I mean...
WOODRUFF: But how can Gray Davis compete with these kinds of deep pockets? I mean, we're told that Checchi is prepared to spend 50 million or so dollars. We're not...
ROSENGARTEN: It makes it tough. There's just no two ways about it. Gray is going to have to, you know, do what he can to get as much money as he can. You know, we had a spending limit law which was tossed out as unconstitutional, and he's done quite well after that. But he has a very tough time competing with Al Checchi, who's worth 600 million, or Jane Harman, whose husband is going to put in, you know, 12 to 15 million himself.
WOODRUFF: Phil Trounstine, what are the other factors in this race? Are there any issues that matter? We know that a majority of the voters in the Democratic side are women. Does that help Jane Harman?
TROUNSTINE: At the moment it doesn't appear to be because there doesn't appear to be a gender gap in the polling. Now, Harman has not made a pitch to women specifically yet. If that happens, it could have a huge a advantage. Fifty-seven percent of the Democratic electorate are women.
Education is the big issue that all three candidates are hitting on, and there are some ancillary issues on the California ballot, like the Paycheck Protection Act, which is something that the unions regard as an attempt to prevent them from being able to participate in elections. But the big issue in the governor's race that all three candidates are hitting on is education.
WOODRUFF: Dick Rosengarten, the fact that this is so-called a blanket primary, where voters can choose the candidate regardless of party, doesn't matter either way, what effect does that have on this primary?
ROSENGARTEN: Well, you're taking a long at Dan Lungren's numbers. Among Republican voters in this "L.A. Times" poll, he's only getting 51 percent. Al Checchi is pulling away 16 percent, Harman about nine, Gray Davis about six percent. Among independents, Al Checchi's got about 29 percent to Harman's 22. Lungren's only got 13 percent.
You got all these people crossing party lines to vote for whoever they want. We don't really know. This is the first time we've ever done this sort of primary before, so we don't know what's really going to happen -- none of us do.
TROUNSTINE: Judy, I would agree with Dick that we don't know, but I'm one of those people who believes that in order to win the nomination of your party, a candidate is going to have to win the bulk of the votes from that party.
ROSENGARTEN: Within the party -- yeah.
TROUNSTINE: And so it seems to me that Checchi is on some dangerous ground here, for example, in not identifying himself as a Democrat in most of his ads. He now recently has begun to identify himself as a Democrat, but then he's attacking Harman from the left in those ads. When those voters find out that he is a Democrat, we don't know what's going to happen to those Republicans who are now for Checchi. If they pull away and go back to Lungren, he's in big trouble.
WOODRUFF: So what is the profile, just quickly, that's emerging of the leaders of Checchi, Harman and Davis, even though he's not on the air yet?
TROUNSTINE: The California electorate really likes a centrist leader. There -- the big paradigm in California, and I think it is all across the country, is mainstream versus extreme. I think we're going to see it. We've seen in a number of races around the country.
ROSENGARTEN: That's right.
TROUNSTINE: We're going to see it in the governor's race. Everybody wants to be mainstream candidate. By and large, that's somebody who is somewhat of a fiscal conservative and somewhat of a social liberal.
WOODRUFF: Well, what does that mean for Dan Lungren, Dick Rosengarten?
ROSENGARTEN: It leaves him to the right of all three of these Democrats because I think -- Phil might agree with me -- I think of all three of them, I think Harman is probably the most moderate of the group, followed by Checchi, and then Davis is to the left of both of them, but not so much so.
I mean, all of them are pro-death penalty, all of them are pro- police and whatnot, but Lungren is -- and by the way, all three Democrats are pro-choice; Lungren is pro-life. And I think that's going to be an issue that pops up.
TROUNSTINE: That is a problem, Judy, I think for Lungren in California. We've not elected a pro-life candidate at the top of the ticket since 1988. That was George Bush, and before that, 1986, George Duke Major (ph). Pete Wilson, as you know is, pro-choice. Whether or not a pro-life candidate can pull out a California statewide election at the top of the ticket, no one knows.
WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we appreciate both Phil Trounstine and Dick Rosengarten. Thank you, both.
ROSENGARTEN: Thank you, Judy.
TROUNSTINE: Our pleasure.