Unusual Senate Race in California Possibility of Women Winning Both US Senate Seats Makes This a Campaign to Watch

Article excerpt

CALIFORNIA'S historic dual race for the United States Senate is entering its final days with the electorate in a more volatile mood than at any other time in modern history.

The revival of the gas chamber for the first time in quarter century, earthquakes as common as a movie sequel, the burning of parts of Los Angeles - all have diverted attention from the normal political antics of an election year.

At the same time an enduring recession and the quixotic presidential bid of plutocrat populist Ross Perot have added to the restiveness of the electorate.

"There is an emotional tension and frustration among the electorate I haven't seen since 1968," says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School.

The result is that the all-important primary contests for the two US Senate seats will likely come down to the three "Ts": turnout, television, and the size of candidates' treasuries.

A key question will be whether California will send two women candidates to the political finals in November. Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein has been comfortably ahead in the Democratic race for the "short" seat - the two-year term caused by Gov. Pete Wilson's move from the Senate to the statehouse.

At the same time, Rep. Barbara Boxer narrowly led in the most recent California Poll in the Democratic jockeying for the six-year position being vacated by retiring Sen. Alan Cranston. The contest for this "long" seat, though, will be testy on both sides of the aisle.

Ms. Boxer faces formidable challenges from Rep. Mel Levine and Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy. Mr. Levine is going into the final days of the campaign with the biggest war chest - and thus the ability to launch the last-minute television blitz so important in a huge state like California.

Levine, in fact, is providing the purest test of the California custom of campaigning-by-commercial. Virtually unknown a few months ago, he raised large amounts of money and waited until the waning weeks to saturate the airwaves.

It has paid off to a degree: He has moved up in the polls. But some political pros say they believe he has peaked, and they question the congressman's recent turn to the right. Normally liberal on social-environmental issues, he has been taking a tough law-and-order stance in the wake of the Los Angeles riots. …