Campaign season begins as California readies for elections
SACRAMENTO (AP) – With the state’s political lines drawn, the weather cooling and the Legislature nearly done with its work, California’s campaign season is beginning.
But it’s starting without the usual fervor, as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., have politicians and their operatives trying to determine the right time and tone for politics. Still, the clock is running for the March 2002 primaries.
”Six months is not a lot of time when you look at how many choices voters will be asked to make in March,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
Californians will elect a governor and seven other statewide constitutional officers, 53 members of Congress, 20 state senators and all 80 members of the state Assembly.
National party leaders will be eyeing the state for its role in the battle for control of Congress, while others will watch for the fate of Rep. Gary Condit.
Also at stake are the possible presidential aspirations of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, whose poll numbers have slipped during the statewide energy crisis.
Voters, too, will decide several statewide ballot measures including a constitutional amendment regarding transportation funding and a drive to change term limit laws to let some lawmakers stay longer in office.
Campaigns have less than six months to raise money, hire campaign staffs and determine their messages before the March 5 primary. Usually, that work starts with Labor Day and the end of the legislative session. But a convergence of events this year has skewed the normal schedule.
Some campaigns, primarily those for statewide office, started early because of the March primary. But others waited to see what happened with redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of political lines based on census figures.
Complicating matters still is the outcome of a special session Davis has said he will call for next month to resolve a proposed bailout plan for Southern California Edison.
Those considerations, added to the political implications emerging after the terrorist attacks and the impending military response, have candidates and consultants scrambling to adjust.
”It’s a whole new ball game,” said Eric Jaye, a San Francisco-based campaign consultant for Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, a candidate for secretary of state.
Campaigns last week suspended fund-raisers and endorsement announcements. Many candidates issued statements or posted notes on their Web sites about the attacks. And the state’s Republican Party postponed its statewide convention planned for last weekend in Los Angeles.
Crafting campaign messages, advertisements and tactics are ”going to be different waters for campaigns to maneuver,” said state Republican Party consultant Rob Stutzman. ”You can’t simply pull out the play books that are used in normal election years.”
Some observers hope the fallout will boost voter participation.
”This tragedy is shoring up people’s sense of patriotism and I think that patriotism will express itself on election day,” Alexander said.
But California pollster Mark DiCamillo said residents and news organizations won’t be focused on politics for a while.
”Trying to generate prominence in terms of the front-page of newspapers, or even the third page of newspapers, in any political race is going to take some time,” said DiCamillo, director of the statewide Field Poll.
When voters do focus on the 2002 election, attention is likely to surround the governor’s race – in which Republicans are pouring resources into trying to unseat Democrat Davis – and the battle for Condit’s district.
Otherwise statewide, ”there are very few open, up-for-grabs seats,” said Joe Cerrell, a Los-Angeles based Democratic consultant.
Gubernatorial candidates have been raising money and making appearances for most of the summer, but donors and campaign advisers are waiting to see if Republican Richard Riordan decides to run.
The former Los Angeles mayor is expected to announce his candidacy by mid- or late-October. Many campaign contributors are waiting to donate to campaigns until they know whether Riordan, a wealthy businessman who was encouraged by President Bush to take on Davis, will run.
Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones and Los Angeles businessman William E. Simon Jr. have announced they will seek the GOP nomination.
In the other closely watched race, Condit has not announced whether he will seek re-election, but his popularity has plunged and droves of Democratic leaders have distanced from him since the disappearance of Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy.
Lawmakers redrew Condit’s district to include a heavily Democratic parts of Stockton, which would help any Democrat running for the seat if Condit doesn’t run. Those new voters, about 40 percent of the district, likely didn’t know Condit before the controversy, which would hurt the conservative Democrat if he decided to run again.
Condit would not be the only candidate facing a new crop of voters, which, political consultants said, make it critical for campaigns to start working now.
”There’s no time to waste in introducing yourself to who you hope will be your new constituents,” Stutzman said.
On the Net:
The California Voter Foundation compiles a guide to candidates and ballot measures at http://www.calvoter.org/2002/
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