HAWTHORNE, CALIF. -- Dianne Feinstein, flushed and smiling and riding friendly political winds, blew into the Hawthorne Memorial Center as a band played, dozens of black, Hispanic and female activists reached to touch her and one Los Angeles political veteran proclaimed hers the most exciting campaign "since the days of Bobby Kennedy."
In a Santa Monica schoolyard, Feinstein's opponent, John Van de Kamp, his quiet demeanor transformed by the squeals and questions of fifth graders, grinned and slapped hands and talked of the need to protect the increasingly burdened public school system from budget cuts. The next day, at a Westside Los Angeles high school, he released an exhaustive survey of teenage drug and alcohol use and pushed for a "War on Drugs" initiative.
As the California Democratic
gubernatorial primary enters its last full week, both Attorney General Van de Kamp and former San Francisco mayor Feinstein have displayed energy, a grasp of the issues and sensitive human touches whenever they ventured into public.
But such moments have been rare. On some days, each campaign has time for only a single public event. In the most volatile, competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary here in decades, Feinstein and Van de Kamp are spending long hours addressing private fund-raising events or sitting in barren campaign offices calling people to ask for money.
In a state with more voters than any other, where new laws limit the amount a single contributor can give, there seems no other way to go about it.
"It's very hard when you can only raise a thousand bucks per person," said Dee Dee Myers, Feinstein's press secretary. Bob Shrum, a Van de Kamp campaign consultant, said, "If we could free the candidate from having to raise the kind of money we need to campaign to win, we could do a great deal with that time."
Campaign-finance reports released last Friday show that Feinstein, leading 38 to 27 percent in the latest Los Angeles Times poll, has raised $5.5 million, including nearly $3 million contributed by her and her financier husband, Richard Blum.
Van de Kamp has raised $6.1 million but spent some of that to qualify ballot initiatives on corruption, crime and the environment. Both totals seem puny beside the $10.5 million raised by GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Pete Wilson, who has no major opponent in his primary.
Even if the two Democratic candidates had more time to campaign, it is not clear that the results would be substantially different here, where the national political truism that television advertising is everything has become holy writ.
While newspaper articles and two hour-long television debates have covered much of what has been an issue-filled campaign, the kind that voters say they want, polls and interviews with voters show that they have absorbed little but what they have seen in 30-second commercials.
Even at the corner of Kingsley and Wilshire in Los Angeles, a political hot spot where both Feinstein and Van de Kamp have offices, passersby this week knew little but the televised themes.
"If Feinstein left the city of San Francisco in trouble," insurance salesman Julio Barrera said, practically reciting a Van de Kamp commercial, "how can she run the whole state?" Portrait artist Kathy Sarquist's support for Feinstein seemed similarly tied to a televised theme. "She's different. I like her," Sarquist said.
Reporters find themselves spending as much time in their offices as Feinstein and Van de Kamp, analyzing the latest commercials and writing lengthy reports on their impact and distortions they might include.
Last Friday, the day that Feinstein's rollicking trip to Hawthorne and Van de Kamp's sober review of drug statistics received little attention, both camps unveiled new commercials likely to have more impact on perceptions than anything else they said during the holiday weekend.
The new commercials were positive. Feinstein's ad stressed her "foresight and common sense" in running San Francisco, while Van de Kamp's underscored his support for the "Big Green" environmental initiative on the primary ballot a week from today.
The state's various political camps are waiting to see whether Van de Kamp will become more negative in the final days of the campaign. He has revived one spot charging that Feinstein's last budget in San Francisco "had a deficit of $180 million," but that issue seems to have passed.
Whatever the commercials say in the last week, they will be crucial to the outcome as the public sees little of the flavor and verve of the candidates as individuals.
Feinstein has developed a vibrant speaking style and captivates audiences, particularly minorities, with a plea for middle-class values of close families, comfortable houses, safe neighborhoods and good schools. Van de Kamp cannot match her as a speaker but has won admiration for discussing in detail how the state might solve its financial, environmental and political problems.
Both have made no secret of their wish to do more of what
politicians used to do. "In the last three days, we have had nine fund-raisers," Feinstein told to a Friday night audience in a small Los Angeles Chinatown hall as her staff worked the room for contributions. "There is nothing more painful."