Related topics

In California, Reagan Pleads for Conservatives to Back Republican

October 22, 1986

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Ed Zschau was the Republican opponent Sen. Alan Cranston had the most reason to fear in his re-election campaign because Zschau, a moderate, threatened to steal Cranston’s political center.

Zschau is finally beginning to win the swing voters who usually decide California elections. But polls say the 46-year-old congressman is still trailing Cranston in a big-spending, name-calling Senate race because Zschau has failed so far to consolidate his own party’s voters.

A few prominent conservatives are openly refusing to support him.

To bolster Zschau’s support among skeptical conservatives, President Reagan has already made one $1.5 million fund-raising appearance for Zschau, and plans a second campaign trip to the state before the Nov. 4 election

″Ed Zschau represents the very best California has to offer America and the future,″ Reagan says in letters to millions of Republican households.

With the Senate race in his home state of California among a handful which could decide whether Republicans retain control of the Senate, Reagan is willing to overlook the 30 percent of the time Zschau voted against his positions in Congress over the past four years.

″It all comes down to the Golden State. If we win this California Senate seat, we will keep control of the United State Senate,″ Reagan said at the dinner for Zschau.

But some conservatives argue it is better to have the 72-year-old Cranston, one of the Senate’s most liberal members, serve one more term than to let Zschau, a full generation younger, take over that seat for two to three decades.

State Sen. H.L. Richardson, a leader of both gun-owner political action groups and fundamentalist religious conservatives, accuses Zschau of ″betrayal″ of Reagan’s policies, and says that to vote for Zschau would be ″an act of culpability″ for any principled conservative.

Richardson was Cranston’s GOP opponent in 1974.

Pollster Steve Teichner, in an early October survey of 1,200 voters, reported Cranston gaining more GOP support than Zschau had Democratic support, 19 percent to 17 percent. Similarly, pollster Mervin Field reported Cranston getting 17 percent of the GOP vote to Zschau’s 16 percent of the Democratic vote.

A major factor state Republicans count on to overcome the fact that Democrats outnumber them by 1.6 million voters is that California Democrats are traditionally two or three times more likely than Republicans to cross party lines. And one of Zschau’s principal pitches in the GOP primary was that he could attract Democratic voters.

He is beginning to do that, the polls indicate.

But both polls found an unusually high one-third of the Republican voters either undecided or opposed to Zschau.

Overall, Teichner, whose polling sample precisely mirrors the 51-38 statewide Democratic registration majority, found Cranston leading by a comfortable 12-point margin, 49-37, while Field, who adjusts his samples for the traditionally higher GOP turnout, found Cranston’s lead slipping to 5 points, 44-39, and to only 3 points among the most likely voters.

Zschau, a two-term congressman whose House district includes only 2 percent of California’s population, was a distant ninth among GOP contenders for the Senate nomination six months before the primary.

He won after a television campaign that stressed free enterprise themes and his background as a high technology entrepreneur, but said little about his other views.

Cranston launched his campaign against Zschau the afternoon after the June 3 primary with television commercials which attempted to redefine Zschau’s perceived greatest asset for a general election - his image as a moderate - as political expediency, flip-flops and a lack of convictions.

″Californians are electing a senator, not a television commercial,″ Cranston said in the first of a series of progressively harsher commercials.

Similarly, Cranston’s campaign speeches have been devoted almost exclusively to attacking Zschau’s record in Congress, with only infrequent passing references to his own long record in the Senate and a 1984 campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

″The only thing consistent about my opponent is his inconsistency, Cranston said, attacking Zschau for switching sides on aid for the Contras in Nicaragua and other issues.

Except for his refusal to debate Zschau - a common tactic among incumbents facing lesser-known challengers - Cranston has campaigned as if he were the challenger, not an incumbent of 18 years who holds his party’s second highest post in the Senate.

Slipping in polls after a summer of broadcasting commercials stressing general themes of independence and fiscal restraint, Zschau abruptly got tougher in September.

One commercial accused Cranston of voting against or not voting on virtually every tough anti-drug bill before the Senate the past 18 years. An even more controversial commercial featured film of international terrorists and accused Cranston of voting against anti-terrorism legislation.

In a speech to the Republican State Convention, Zschau parodied anti-drug public service commerials, warning of the dangers of taking too much ″crack, cocaine and Cranston.″

Cranston replied by labeling Zschau a liar and used that as reason to break off negotiations for debates.

Meanwhile, both candidates continue to raise and spend funds at a pace that will set new records for Senate races in California - probably $10 million to $12 million each.

The liberal label Cranston has worn since his days organizing for the United World Federalists matches his support in the Senate of social programs, civil liberties and nuclear disarmament efforts, but overlooks the close relationship he has built over the years with California’s business community.

And the moderate label attached to Zschau is also far from a perfect description. On the U.S. Chamber of Commerce scale, Zschau has a perfect 100 percent, which puts him 11 percentage points to the right of conservatives such as Sen. Jesse Helms on economic votes. But he also scores 65 percent on the American Civil Liberties Union scale, which means he sides with Cranston four times more frequently than the average Republican congressman on social and civil liberties issues.

Update hourly