In the final days of the 1984 presidential campaign, the attention of California's politicians is being drawn from the top of the ticket to a ballot initiative that could signal the end of the Democratic Party's long dominance in California politics.
Proposition 39, sponsored by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, is just the latest skirmish in the state's long-fought reapportionment war.
If approved, power over drawing the boundaries for the state legislature and the House would shift from the Democratic-controlled legislature to a panel of retired judges.
The latest poll shows 26 percent favor passage, 25 percent oppose it and 16 percent are undecided.
But 33 percent say they aren't aware of the measure, although Republicans are spending $2.5 million on television advertising alone, and Democrats are spending in excess of $3 million.
The Democrats' commercial says that passage of Proposition 39 would drag judges "into the political back room, like Chicago and other places with political machines . . . "
A black-robed judge appears on the screen to tell some overweight, cigar-puffing characters, "Don't worry, guys.
"With Proposition 39," the judge says, "when the time comes, I'll take care of the party."
The announcer then intones, "Judges belong in the courtroom, not in the backroom. Say no to the politicians. Vote no on Proposition 39."
The Republican commercial opens with a closeup of the face of a fox. The announcer says, "Politicians. They say trust me, and we do."
On the screen, the fox has begun sniffing around a chicken coop. "They say, 'We'll stand watch, don't worry about a thing.' So we don't. Then, they become anxious. Then ambitions mount . . . and self-interest finally takes over."
The viewer sees the fox suddenly leap toward the camera, after which the scene dissolves to a plumper, happier-looking fox and some nervous-looking chickens.
The announcer continues: "Now, politicians are here to stay, sly as they are. But we don't have to trust them with everything, do we? Vote yes on Proposition 39."
Both sides agree that voter turnout could be the key.
Many Democrats have expressed concern that the Mondale-Ferraro campaign cut back its contribution for a get-out-the-vote drive.