Wilson Woes Weaken Dole in California

Article excerpt

On the surface Bob Dole won a handy victory in California's primary election. But it may have been a Pyrrhic one. If that proves to be the case, blame will lie at the feet of Gov. Pete Wilson, Dole's California chairman, who continues to employ the divisive tactics that have made him the state's most unpopular governor since World War II.

Wilson, who in January muscled Attorney Gen. Dan Lungren out of the leadership of Dole's campaign with the approval of national campaign manager Scott Reed, did little to help build Dole's victory margin in the two months before the primary. In fact, the Dole pre-primary campaign was almost nonexistent. Indeed, Wilson's decision to walk Dole through .San Quentin prison's notorious death row to show he is tough on crime served only to make the candidate look dour and heartless.

Much more damaging to Dole's chances of carrying California in November, however, is Wilson's continuing enmity toward two of the party's big-three state leaders, Lungren and GOP Chairman John Herrington, who served as President Reagan's secretary of energy. In Herrington's case, Wilson's antagonism is strange, since Herrington's only crimes seem to be that he is a longtime Reaganite and that he has run the party his way and not Wilson's. At the same time, he has worked to avoid any direct confrontation with the governor. In doing so, he has managed to keep a lid on the differences between the party's conservative majority and its smaller moderate wing. And he has been one of the better fund-raising chairmen in recent years. All in all, he is the kind of chairman one would expect Wilson to appreciate.

Nevertheless, Wilson seemingly went out of his way before the primary and on election night to embarrass not only Herrington but also Lungren, who still retains the title of chairman for Dole's campaign. Lungren and Wilson share a mutual dislike that has not been helped by Wilson's active antagonism, talk of Lungren as a potential Dole running mate or Lungren's decision to run for governor in 1998. Wilson, who cannot succeed himself, favors Mayor Susan Golding of San Diego.

Wilson began his most recent attack on Herrington and Lungren by bowing out of a statewide victory party in Los Angeles, to which Herrington had invited all the Republican candidates along with Wilson, Lungren and assorted party bigwigs. On short notice, Wilson decided instead to hold his own celebration in Sacramento. Three days before the election, Wilson's staff notified the news media wrongly that the Los Angeles event had been canceled, forcing Herrington to put out a special notice saying the event was still on. …