With the winter rains gone, the beaches beckoning, the economy booming, Californians have much this spring to be happy about -- provided they don't listen to the radio.
Commercial No. 1:
Woman: Why do we have to keep going to all these fund-raising dinners for George Deukmejian?
Man: You know our company operates toxic-waste dumps.
Man: Well, state government could force us to clean up the toxic chemicals. But Deukmejian's protecting us.
Commercial No. 2:
Man: Did you see this? Tom Bradley is saying the governor is dishonest.
Woman: That's crazy! . . .
Man: People will see through Bradley . . . they can spot a dirty campaign.
Woman: He's so wrong. It's sad.
Man: No, it's pathetic.
The leading candidates for governor, incumbent Deukmejian, a Republican, and Los Angeles Mayor Bradley, a Democrat, had been billed as two nice dull gentlemen intent on discussing crime and taxes, the usual California issues. Instead, the state is witnessing a harsh exchange of personal attacks.
Commercial No. 1:
Woman: Hmpf. Personally, I think I'll vote for Tom Bradley.
Man: Mmm. Boss says Bradley would force us to clean up. So, tonight, we're giving another 10 grand to Deukmejian.
Woman: That's a lot for a lousy chicken dinner.
Commercial No. 2:
Man: He's running commercials attacking Gov. Deukmejian's personal integrity . . . ya' know, like a smear campaign.
Woman: Bradley? Hmm. I never thought he'd stoop to that.
Man: I guess it's because Bradley is just so far behind in the polls.
Bradley trails Deukmejian by 12 percentage points in the latest statewide survey, but with more than five months before the election such numbers have little meaning -- making the intense media binge all the more unusual. California has a primary next Tuesday, but all the interest is in the Republican contest for the Senate nomination, and there's no real competition for Deukmejian or Bradley. They have known for some time that they would be competing in November.
When the two men campaigned for governor four years ago, "we had a primary campaign against Mike Curb, and Bradley had a big lead in the polls," said one long-time member of the governor's staff. "He didn't take after us because he didn't feel he had to. He was leading right up to the election."
Bradley's campaign press secretary, Ali Webb, said Deukmejian in 1982 was hitting Bradley hard even before winning the Republican nomination. "He doesn't know how to run anything but an attack-oriented campaign," she said. Four years ago, Deukmejian charged Bradley with weakening the Los Angeles police force and supporting an ill-fated gun control initiative. This was widely viewed as the cause of Bradley's defeat and the reason he publicly rejected further gun control efforts this time.
Now Deukmejian has another crime-related issue. He wants to unseat Rose E. Bird, the liberal chief justice of the state supreme court. Bradley has declined to take a stand on the issue, saying voters should make up their own minds about Bird.
Woman: You know, if he had only taken a position on Rose Bird, he might have gotten more support.
Man: Yeah, he changed his position on oil drilling, gun control, the death penalty, and ducked on Rose Bird . . . . then he decided to attack the governor.
When little is working in a campaign, it is best to change the rhythm. That is what Bradley has done. His radio assault on Deukmejian's toxic-cleanup record, followed recently by an equally aggressive television spot featuring actress Tyne Daly, has won headlines and forced the governor and his staff to handle many questions on the subject. The Los Angeles Times said Bradley gained five percentage points after the ads began. By a 25-point margin, voters said Bradley would do a better job on toxic-waste cleanup.
Deukmejian campaign director Larry Thomas called the effort a "classic smear campaign" focusing on toxic waste bills the governor vetoed and ignoring several dozen he sponsored and signed. Most of the "toxic-waste companies" contributing to his campaign are ordinary manufacturers or Armenian Americans in the refuse business who are drawn to Deukmejian because of their common ethnic background, Thomas said.
Webb said Bradley strategists did not expect these ads to change minds but simply to sensitize voters. The tactic is aided by a separate campaign to defeat an initiative limiting corporate and government liability in some damage cases.
One Bradley TV spot against this proposition makes his radio ads seem gentle by comparison:
A dark night. A remote field. Men in contamination suits and hoods pump bubbling, foaming, foul-looking fluids out of huge hoses onto the ground.
Announcer: If Proposition 51 passes . . . chemical companies whose toxic wastes cause cancer won't be held fully responsible. California will become a dumping ground for toxic polluters.
Younger executive (turning from the bubbling pit with a worried look): Jack, I don't like this.
Older executive (smiling wickedly): Don't worry. It makes sense to dump the stuff here in California. Even if we're caught it won't cost us that much.