Dole Hedges Stand on Effort to Curb Affirmative Action California Measure Packs Little Political Punch

Article excerpt

Two years ago, a popular ballot initiative against illegal immigration helped to boost the campaign of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, carrying him to a second term in office. Governor Wilson hoped that an initiative measure against affirmative-action programs would work the same magic this year, drawing California voters to back the Republican nominee for president.

The California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), as the measure is known, remains highly popular in polls. But even Republican backers now question whether the ballot initiative will have the political punch they had earlier believed.

"Anyone who is thinking CCRI is going to be to election '96 in California what Proposition 187 was to election '94 is going to be sadly mistaken," says Republican state Assemblyman James Brulte.

On the surface, affirmative action is one major issue where Republicans and Democrats can draw clear lines of distinction, making it a "wedge issue." President Clinton has clearly opposed the CCRI while favoring reform of affirmative-action programs to remove race-based quotas. Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole is just as firmly on the record supporting the California ballot initiative, widely backed by the Republican Party here.

But the Dole camp now is having doubts about the political efficacy of this stance, and the senator's aides have quietly started to distance him from the issue.

During a recent campaign swing through California, Mr. Dole did not even mention affirmative action. Senior campaign adviser Ken Khachigian, de facto head of Dole's California campaign, has been noticeably reluctant to embrace the fight against affirmative action. "That issue is going to be very substantial in the fall in the state, but it is not clear if it will be a presidential issue," he told reporters during Dole's visit to the state.

A word of warning

Former California Gov. George Deukmejian, talking to reporters at a campaign appearance with Dole, was openly critical of the effort to define CCRI as a partisan issue between Republicans and Democrats. "The timing of the ballot initiative could, if not handled properly, create further divisions within the community," he said. Mr. Deukmejian, a Republican, has advised the Dole campaign not to emphasize the issue, according to Assemblyman Brulte. …