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CQ Profile: Gray Davis

CQ Profile: Dan Lungren

Stuart Rothenberg on California governor's race


Post your opinions on the November races

Davis leads California governor's race

Outcome could be crucial to 2000 redistricting

By Jennifer Auther/CNN

LOS ANGELES (October 22) -- As Republican Gov. Pete Wilson steps down, California may just elect a Democrat to succeed him.

It is the highest stakes governor's race in the country, with the man seemingly in the catbird's seat taking a page from President Bill Clinton's playbook.

"My most important priority is to restore our schools to greatness," said Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis.

Vice President Gore stumped for Davis
in September

Both Davis and Republican State Attorney General Dan Lungren are career California politicians.

Each projects spending about $33 million on the race.

Initially, pundits worried Davis would be hurt by his own "gray" image. But their worry may have been misplaced.

Davis has enjoyed a steady lead in public polls, between six and eight percentage points, since the primary.

"Boring is back! Boring might even be beautiful!" said Davis, during a campaign appearance with Vice President Al Gore.

Davis is a Democrat who passionately supports legal abortion. But his conservative views on some issues moderate his image as a diehard liberal who for years worked for Jerry Brown.

"I would be very tight with your tax dollars, I would be passionate about education, I would be committed to the environment, and I would be death on violent crime!" Davis said during an October 15 debate.

Not too long ago, Lungren, the Republican nominee, was hailed as "The Great Right Hope."

"I was proud, while I was in Congress to be the single strongest supporter of Ronald Reagan's agenda," Lungren says.

Lungren is running on a "remain-tough-on-crime" platform, even though he has been criticized for failing to vigorously enforce California's assault weapons ban.

Lungren debated Davis earlier this month  

"We've had, I think 18,000 or more, maybe it's up to 19,000 such guns taken off the street," Lungren says.

National conservatives hope Lungren, who opposes legal abortions and supports less government and fewer taxes, can succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Wilson.

Davis tweaked Lungren in one debate: "Dan, when are you going to get with the program? Join Pete Wilson and I and support a permanent ban on new, offshore drilling?"

But Lungren has avoided aligning himself with Wilson, who supported hot-button ballot measures such as banning affirmative action and halting basic aid to illegal immigrants.

Lungren and Davis must navigate California's ethnically diverse electorate.

Both are tailoring the message, and running Spanish-language TV spots.

A recent poll shows Davis has better than a 3-to-1 edge over Lungren among Latino voters.

"I think the Republicans have had a problem with Latino votes going back to the 1988 fiasco in Orange County, where the Orange County Republican Party hired uniformed guards to stand at polling places, at the legal limit away from the polling stations, but with signs that 'Only citizens can vote,'" said Prof. Sheldon Kemieniecki of the University of Southern California.

Lungren apparently hopes to offset that, touting his Catholic upbringing and using the Monica Lewinsky scandal to discuss character issues.

"My gut tells me that it will discourage the Democratic voter, and that that will be a greater impact on the campaign than encouraging the Republicans," Lungren said.

But according to the polls, neither candidate has captured a convincing majority.

The outcome of the race for governor of California remains in the hands of a shrinking number of undecided voters. Voter turnout also continues to be a big factor.

Meantime, media coverage is scant, rendering five other gubernatorial candidates all but invisible.

They are drowned out by a Lungren-Davis, final-quarter media blitz.

A Davis ad declares, "Davis supports a ban on new, offshore oil drilling. Lungren won't."

An anti-crime ad for Lungren declares, "As attorney general, Dan Lungren enforced the death penalty. He championed three strikes, Megan's law and 10-20 life."

Democrats control both houses of the California legislature. Only a Lungren win would ensure a GOP voice in redistricting California's large bloc of congressional seats after the 2000 election.

"Whatever is done has to be done in a fair and objective manner," Davis says.

The thought makes Lungren shudder. Asked what happens in redistricting if Davis wins, Lungren says, "Oh, a repeat of what happened under Jerry Brown, a gerrymander. Only in this case, because we have so many more people in California and more representatives, it could mean the turnover of 10 to 12 seats."

It is enough to turn all eyes to California, come November 3.


Thursday, October 22, 1998

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