Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost the California governor's race not because he is black but because of a massive conservative turnout to defeat a state gun control measure, political analysts said today.
Politicians sifting the wreckage from Bradley's 7/10ths of a percentage point loss to Republican state Attorney General George Deukmejian pointed to huge GOP majorities in suburban Orange County, where crime issues have been influential, and in central valley towns full of hunters and gun enthusiasts.
John Pope, a recent Democratic chairman for Orange County, said he found people in his door-to-door canvassing who said "that they never voted before but were going to come out this time to defeat Proposition 15," an initiative to limit the number of handguns in the state.
The initiative lost in a 2-to-1 landslide after opponents spent an estimated $6 million on television advertisements, and also mailings that mentioned Bradley's support for gun control.
In the wake of Bradley's loss, which came only three weeks after polls showed him with a 14 percentage point lead, several black leaders here blamed a hidden racist vote for the surprising defeat of the mayor's effort to become the first elected black governor in U.S. history.
The undecided vote, said the state's most powerful black official, assembly Speaker Willie Brown, was affected by "the great fear of anything that is different from what is considered WASP in this country."
One pollster also suggested the day after the election that black voters might not have turned out in as large numbers as expected, perhaps because they were discouraged by the lack of discussion of help for poor blacks in this campaign.
But analysts here taking a first look at county-by-county results said turnout in black neighborhoods appeared higher than average and that blacks seem to have supported Bradley in greater numbers than they did his fellow Democrat Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who lost his race for the U.S. Senate by a wider margin.
Even Bradley has appeared to discount the anti-black vote.
"It's possible it -- race -- had some impact," he told a news conference the day after the election, "but it's sheer speculation. I've said from the beginning that I did not believe race would be a significant factor in the race. I never said it would be no factor."
Bradley's press secretary, Tom Sullivan, said the anti-gun control vote was "definitely a factor, particularly in the rural areas of the state." He said Bradley supporters had hoped to balance this with a large turnout of liberal voters supporting a nuclear freeze initiative also on the ballot.
But the freeze campaign, which succeeded by a narrow margin, "never was able to reach the emotional level that Proposition 15 had."
Sullivan said Bradley was not bitter about the defeat. He was waiting until Saturday or Monday to decide whether to ask a recount of the race which he lost by about 52,295 votes, but had returned to his office to resume work as mayor, Sullivan said.
Democratic and Republican campaign workers agreed that Bradley suffered from Brown's poor image, a concerted Deukmejian television campaign on the crime issue and an expensive and successful effort by the Republicans to get absentee ballots to all party registrants who might otherwise have missed voting.
Deukmejian's campaign aide and now transition specialist, Ken Khachigian, said today that the mayor had run a good campaign. "But as these analyses go forward," he said, "it's important that people understand that Tom Bradley lost because he's a liberal, not because he's black."