Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Senate Race Doesn't Look like a Shoe-In for Feinstein

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Senate Race Doesn't Look like a Shoe-In for Feinstein

Article excerpt

FOR a while there, it seemed like United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) might glide through her reelection bid this year with roller-bearing ease.

No challenger had yet emerged within her own party, and it looked like the only GOP opposition she might face came from former congressman William Dannemeyer, a feisty but fringy conservative, and a handful of lesser-known Republicans.

But then, suddenly, freshman Congressman Michael Huffington (R) jumped into the fray, which normally wouldn't cause any triple-lutz anxiety among Democrats, except for one thing: the size of his wallet.

In 1992, Mr. Huffington, the son of a Texas oil man, spent more than $5 million of his own money in winning a congressional seat from Santa Barbara, the most of any candidate for the United States House in history.

Now this "Perot by the sea," as he has been dubbed, is focusing on making it to the Senate.

Though the early outlook is that Senator Feinstein will be difficult to unseat, the entrance of Mr. Huffington will liven up the GOP primary and makes the chance of a Democratic coronation in the fall less automatic.

"You cannot write this guy off," says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School. "You can't write anybody off who has $16 to $18 million {to spend}. It will make Feinstein focus."

The race will garner its share of national attention. Republicans are hoping to chip away at the Democratic lead in the Senate. They have had triumphs in several important races since President Clinton took office and know the party in the White House usually has troubles in midterm elections.

Also, California lately has had a senator from each party. That ended in 1992 when Feinstein won the race to fill out the rest of the term of Republican Pete Wilson, who became governor, and Barbara Boxer (D) won the other seat.

Republicans pine to retake one, if not both, of these positions, though many analysts think they will have a better chance against Ms. Boxer later.

On one level, the entrance of Mr. Huffington into the race is a plus for the Feinstein camp because there will be quarreling on the Republican side. …

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