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Jewish World Review August 28, 2000 / 27 Menachem-Av, 5760

George Will

George Will
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Consumer Reports

Uphill for a California Republican -- WHEN TOM CAMPBELL, congressman from San Jose and Republican nominee against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is reminded of 1992, the year he narrowly lost the nomination for the Senate, he murmurs, "Infandum . . . iubes renovare dolorem." If your memory of Virgil is rusty, that means: Too deep for words is the grief you bid me to renew.

In plain English: Don't remind me.

When Campbell lost that nomination to an ideological conservative, he worked with allies in the state legislature to change the nominating process to the blanket primary ballot used this year for the first time. (And last: The Supreme Court recently said it unconstitutionally infringes parties' rights to freely associate with like-minded people.) With Democratic and Republican candidates listed on one ballot and everyone eligible to vote for anyone, Campbell was the top Republican vote-getter.

But having engineered an end-run around his party's base, he cannot quite define his distinctive constituency. He supports normalized trade with China. But so does Feinstein. "I'm the cheapest man in Congress," he says, and the National Taxpayers Union calls him the member least willing to spend money. But with burgeoning surpluses, parsimony seems passe.

He favors abortion rights and gay rights, but so does she. He calls himself a libertarian, but favors, as she does, more government regulation of political speech (campaign finance reform). He wants to replace the income tax with a national consumption tax, but the public senses that such systemic change is impossible, given the way the tax code is woven into so many social expectations. A tenured law professor at Stanford, Campbell sued President Clinton, charging that the use of U.S. military forces in Kosovo without congressional approval was unconstitutional. That is arguable but uninteresting to 99.99 percent of Californians.

Campbell has an economics PhD from the Vatican of free market theology, the University of Chicago, and was editor of the Law Review during his years at Harvard Law School, after which he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He testified for the confirmation of Robert Bork. Were Campbell to enter the Senate as Pat Moynihan leaves it, he would inherit the title of most interesting mind in the chamber. He could be a broader-gauge John McCain, with more than the one-note radicalism of campaign finance reform. He plans to poach from Al Gore's populism, denouncing "special interests" that supposedly manipulate Washington.

Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, has hitherto run statewide three times--unsuccessfully for governor in 1990 (losing to Pete Wilson 49 percent to 46 percent), successfully in 1992 for the remainder of the Senate term Wilson yielded to become governor and re-elected in 1994 to a full term. So she is known from the Oregon border to the Mexican border. His name recognition is about half her 95 percent. The Campbell campaign's positive thinkers say: If he is just 11 points behind (48 to 37 in their poll, done by Zogby) with half Feinstein's name recognition, the race will become winnable as he becomes known.

But how will he do that, spending much less than $10 million in a five-week post-Olympics sprint? This in a state that six years ago soaked up almost three times that much, spent by Feinstein's last opponent, Michael Huffington. Campbell's aides hope to entice news media into paying attention. However, that hope may be delusional in a state where negligible political interest explains why no Los Angeles or San Francisco television station has a bureau covering state government in Sacramento.

Even though Feinstein is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, a terrific perch for fund-raising, she has only a few million in cash on hand, partly because Gore and other Democrats have vacuumed California clean of money, partly because she looks secure, partly because she is rich enough to write herself a whopping check, as she did against Huffington.

Last week George Bush's post-convention television advertising began in 21 states, but not California. Bush's campaign says he, unlike his father in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996, will fight for the state's 54 electoral votes, noting that he has been there every month since March--twice in May and June--and will be back in September, when his ads will run in some media markets.

Campbell hopes that, come late September, Bush does not conclude that California is too expensive a gamble. Campbell's slender hopes require that Republican turnout not be depressed by the top of the ticket pulling out. As in 1992. Infandum . . . iubes renovare dolorem.

Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.


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