By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Nearly everyone he‘s consulted has advised against the race. Party officials who first urged Unz to run have reversed course and asked him to abandon the idea. They’ve decided that Representative Tom Campbell -- who is liberal on social issues, conservative on economics -- is their best bet for winning the seat away from the Democrats.
Unz‘s allies in the campaign-finance-reform initiative campaign are also wary. Tony Miller, his initiative co-author, and campaign-finance specialist Bob Stern, who helped draft Proposition 25, advised him not to jump in. They worried that the initiative will be seen only as an adjunct to the Senate campaign. Until this turn -- when his personal political ambitions suddenly crossed wires with the goals of his ”unexpected coalition“ -- there’d been a kind of rhetorical love fest across ideological lines. ”We need a lot more Ron Unzes on the right and the left,“ Stern had said.
But over the weekend, Stern has admitted to deep qualms about how the partisan Senate bid might affect the cross-partisan initiative they‘d spent so many hours laboring over. In a long telephone conversation, he had told Unz so. Despite these warnings, Unz had gone to work by himself in his Palo Alto home, assembling press packets and formulating an announcement. ”I’m not like an ocean liner, I can turn pretty swiftly,“ Unz had said on Monday morning as he collated the materials.
Ron Unz sounds uncharacteristically rattled, tattered around the edges. This is Ron Unz?, he says on the telephone, a tentative uptick as if he‘s asking rather than telling. He wants to meet. ”Could we get together again?“ he asks. ”In person?“ The next morning over breakfast, he’s wearing an old, worn, faded blue shirt with button-down collar tips that flap, unbuttoned, when his head lumbers up and down.
Though he doesn‘t want to talk about it, it’s clear that the air has leaked out of his balloon. He has to really work to seem perky. Poll results on the campaign-finance initiative show that it‘s leading by a mere 1 percent margin, 42 percent to 41 percent. This will be no slam dunk. The $40 million the initiative provides for publicly funded media credits will be an especially vulnerable feature of the measure.
”We have a lot of work to do,“ Miller, the initiative’s co-author, has warned already. ”We have to make sure that people don‘t confuse the message with the messenger. Among other things, I think Ron is buying a ticket on the Titanic. I think Dianne Feinstein wins, and wins big.“
Initial polling has shown Unz far behind Dianne Feinstein, and significantly behind Tom Campbell as well. He’s committed himself to helping fund an anti--bilingual education initiative in the state of Arizona, and he wants to file one in New York City, too, to galvanize media interest in ”the media capital“ and provide ”cover for efforts in all the other states.“ Congressional Republicans are hammering him to pony up with a contribution to their redistricting initiative, too, something they claim he previously promised. Overextended is a word that might apply here.
Campbell, meanwhile, is running all-out. He‘s got more than $1.2 million in a campaign treasury already, and has garnered even the support of key conservatives in the state party apparatus. Unz’s own effort to hire staff for his Senate candidacy, particularly to bring in a skilled fund-raiser, hasn‘t been successful yet. And his own hours on the telephone, and in private meetings, have been dispiriting. One poignant irony: Unz’s underdog quest will be all the tougher to fund because he‘s pledged to abide by the terms of Proposition 25 (and the media credits offered under it, of course, do not yet apply).
Commentary is out, with a long essay by him laying out his nuanced views about immigration and chronicling his version of the history of Propositions 187, 209 and 227. But a primary campaign against Campbell would almost certainly center on social issues where they differ -- Unz opposes abortion, Campbell is pro-choice; Unz supports the Knight initiative while Campbell doesn’t -- not on affirmative action, ethnicity, bilingual education.
In some senses, Unz has just closed a circle. The publication so instrumental in forming his own political views has just published his deepest think piece yet. He‘d like to be discussing the ideas in that piece. He fantasizes about posing a pro-immigrant conservative challenge to the more liberal Feinstein. But he needs at least $4 million to mount a credible race.
Unlike in his previous efforts, Unz can’t just plunk down the money he needs. The history of self-funded candidates in the state -- Michael Huffington for Senate, Al Checchi for governor, Clint Reilly for mayor of San Francisco -- advises against it. Besides, Unz simply doesn‘t have that kind of money. He lives on very little, purchasing enormous influence for relatively small expenditures. (Clint Reilly spent more in a local campaign, in a matter of months, than Unz has contributed to politics since 1992.)
Unz knows that a serious campaign for the Senate will inevitably lead to more coverage of his early life, perhaps focusing even more attention on his parents’ relationship or his mother‘s history, the glare of the spotlight on questions of personality. He’s been surprised to hear so many questions from reporters about his social life and is determined to resist the pressure to talk about the women he‘s dated.
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