If Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey wins the California Republican nomination for the US Senate this year, he says he will not underestimate his most likely opponent in the November election -- Democratic Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
And, he says, he has no doubt that the winner of the GOP primary in June will have massive backing from the White House and the party's national campaign apparatus during the general election campaign.
In a recent interview, the 15-year US House veteran from Menlo Park told the Monitor:
''The interesting thing about this race is that 95 percent of the Republicans I'm running into don't care about the ideological positions, they care about who can beat Jerry Brown. The fear of Brown goes from the White House down to the lowest level (among Republicans) in this state. . . .
''I think that Jerry Brown is vulnerable, but he is extremely resilient. The only way he's going to be beaten is point-by-point, specific cross-examination in debate where he's not allowed to drift off into the mists of philosophy and metaphysics.''
Among the seven or eight Republicans vying for a chance to run for the Senate seat held by incumbent Republican S.I. Hayakawa, McCloskey says he feels certain he is not the White House favorite. He concedes that distinction to San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. But McCloskey says the ''White House is unlikely to get into the primary unless it appears somebody might win who can't defeat Brown in the general election.'' That is generally conceded to be the reason why Washington put such strong pressure on Senator Hayakawa not to seek a second term -- pressure to which he finally acceded.
''The last thing they want,'' says McCloskey, ''is an articulate, charismatic Democrat in the Senate - the one man who might be able to marshal anti-Reagan sentiment and tie it together with the same kind of charisma that Reagan himself has. So keeping Brown out of the Senate has got to be their No. 1 priority.''
Pete McCloskey gained national prominence in the late 1960s and early '70s, first as a critic of America's Vietnam policy and later when he demonstrated his opposition to President Nixon by symbolically challenging him for the Reublican nomination in 1972. A US Marine Corps veteran who served in Korea, McCloskey uses the term ''moderate'' in describing his Republicanism. But he shuns ideology and insists on talking about specific issues. Expressing his convictions, no matter who might be offended, he admits to having placed himself the wrong side of most special interest groups at one time or another.
The latest California Poll (taken in Januray) on the GOP Senate race shows Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. -- with Hayakawa out of the race -- preferred by 34 percent of those polled, a 16 point lead over both McCloskey and Wilson, who are tied at 18 percent. Maureen Reagan is fourth with 9 percent. Most of McCloskey's strength is centered in the San Francisco Bay Area. He admits he has to increase his recognition and support in populous southern California.
''I'm trying to build a grass-roots organization in 58 counties and 422 cities,'' he says. ''And if we can get a grass-roots Republican organization statewide, then I have a chance to win. I can't win it on ideology and I can't win it on support of Republican kingmakers. I will never get that.''
While McCloskey basically agrees with President Reagan's approach to domestic and foreign affairs, he enunciates clear differences with the President on many issues -- Mexican immigration, defense policy, the Mideast, and Central America, among others.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Most of the candidates in the Republican primary seem to be running against Brown, not each other. What's your approach?
I've just invited each of my opponents to a series of six head-to-head debates. Thus far Pete Wilson has declined to debate. Barry Goldwater wants to have nothing to do with debates. (Subsequent to this interview, Wilson responded to the challenge with a counterproposal for ''three or four debates involving all candidates shown by the California Poll to have a following of 15 percent or more of the Republican electorate.'') The only one to agree is Ted Bruinsma (Theodore Bruinsma, former head of the Loyola University law school in Los Angeles and a very dark horse in the GOP race) because he's got zero name recognition and feels it would help.
I'm trying to run an issues campaign. . . . I think nuclear war is the great threat. I'm supporting the President's initiative to the Soviets to try to reduce strategic arms. I put a lot of emphasis on the Mideast because I think that until there is a Palestinian homeland, until the PLO and the Israelis are negotiating, that there's a danger of a nuclear war occurring in that part of the world. . . . The time is running out for Mideast negotiations and I push very, very hard to try to get the pro-Israeli view in this country to accept what Phil Klutznick, the former president of B'nai B'rith and American Jewish Congress, said -- that you've got to deal with the Palestinians and the PLO, and you've got to have an Arab presence in East Jerusalem. That has become a much heavier issue than I would like because it has put me in the position of being accused of anti-Semitism and of taking on the Jewish community. That's not my intention. My real intention is to get Mideast peace.
What might be the political cost in California to you for your position on the Israeli-Palestinan issue?
The cost could be to lose (the votes of) the entire Jewish community.
Would that be significant in the primary?
It's very significant in the general election. I would guess that most of the Jewish community is a supporter of the Democratic Party, but the terrible thing about it is that on all of the other issues - handgun control, social values, abortion - the Jewish community and I have always been in agreement. But I view their emotional attachment to Israel as so predominant in their thinking that they can't look at that issue rationally. They are like the Moral Majority on prayer in the schools or the National Rifle Association on handgun control. It's such a consuming concern (an understandable fear) on their part - that Israel having been created cannot be endangered - that they won't accept even any debate on whether Begin is right or wrong.
On domestic issues . . .
Domestically, I'm pushing a thing called national youth service. I think the all-volunteer Army is a disaster and we ought to go back to the idea that everyone has a duty to serve the country. I've presented a bill which has about 100 cosponsors in the House and Senate that would require every 18-year-old to serve a year or two either in military or civilian public service. He or she - it applies to women - could pick military or nonmilitary. But only those who chose military service would get college benefits. Those who picked neither would go into a draft pool subject to being drafted until age 24. That proposal didn't have much hope as long as Reagan was opposed to a peacetime draft. But his recent acceptance of registration represents a philosophical breakthrough and will help this bill.
What other domestic initiatives are you taking?
My career in the last five years has been essentially trying to abolish government agencies and simplify the law. My view is that much of the disrespect for the law comes from overly complex laws - usually the fault of Congress. We have delegated all this responsiblity to departments. I would like to abolish HUD (US Deparment of Housing and Urban Development) and substitute for new HUD programs a simple mortgage instrument which would not allow the borrower to deduct the interest, but allow the lender to take the interest tax-free. That should reduce the interest on a first mortgage down from 18 percent to about 11 percent. That would make it possible for a lot of people to buy homes again. Also, I've submitted an immigration bill providing for a guest worker program under which those workers admitted would have to carry an identity card - but so would we all. If an employer then hired somebody who was not in the country legally, then the employer would be subject to civil sanctions the first time and criminal sanctions the second time. Another piece of legislation I'm proposing would remove all tax exemptions, exclusions, and deductions, and replace the present system with a progressive, gross income tax with only two deductions - one business, because every business is different, and one charitable, because I think we should keep charitable institutions.
What about new federalism?
That's fine. But I was disappointed with his State of the Union speech because he didn't address the current state of the union. The current state of the union is interest rates at 18 percent and a $100 billion budget deficit. I was looking for leadership as to what the country's going to do in the next seven months - and apparently the administration hasn't decided what we're going to do in the next seven months. Consequently, we'll mill around for the next seven months.
What about defense and foreign policy?
I thought Carter's MX program was a disaster, and I view the President's MX program as sort of a holding pattern. I don't think it's the answer either. The B-1 bomber I'm puzzled by; that decision you've got to make on a basis of is it cost-effective enough. I voted for it because I thought, given the start of the arms reduction talks, you want to back the President - at least show a strong defense posture. I have real doubts about the amount of money we're spending for manpower. Sixty percent of our defense budget is manpower, the Soviets spend 23 percent. I have a lot of other reservations about our defense. There is no reserve worth mentioning.
What about nuclear arms limitation talks?
I'm all for it. . . . The President's speech last November I thought was great - the one on strategic arms reduction. We'll just have to wait and see how the Soviets react. On Poland I don't think he could have done any more. Recognizing the limits of power in Poland and Nicaragua and El Salvador is something that this administration's going to have to accept. The one worry I have about the administration is the quality of staff foreign policy advice that comes up to the President. You've got Haig and Weinberger, both brilliant guys and obviously at odds on many things. The critical thing is the national security adviser, and Allen I think was let go not because of the watches, but because he was a lightweight.
What about Central America?
I was the one Republican that said I didn't think they should send advisers to El Salvador. I would meet everything the Soviets and Cubans did in El Salvador, but I would not send American troops unless there were Cubans or Soviets in that country, and they're not and never have been contended to be. To get in on one side either for the overthrow of a Latin American government or for the sustaining of it in a bona fide revolutionary situation I think is wrong.
Do we have a humanitarian role there?
We have a great role. We want to promote freedom, we want to promote solidarity, we want to promote assistance. We want to promote governments that will be stable and relatively sensitive to their people's needs. But . . . a lot of those Latin American dictators I wouldn't support at all. My rule of thumb would be to follow the Monroe Doctrine to the letter: Any foreign intrusion into this hemisphere you meet. But . . . if there's a bona fide revolution against the junta in El Salvador, I wouldn't get so locked into the government of El Salvador that if they ultimately get toppled we are then tied with a situation like we were with the Shah of Iran or Somoza (in Nicaragua). I would be much easier, I think, with the Sandinistas; I would not drive them into the communist camp by an iron hostility. I think half these guys that claim they're communists today may be socialists tomorrow. And look at Marcos in the Philippines. He started out as a liberty guy and then he abolished the constitution and threw his chief opponent in jail. Sure, we need the Subic Bay naval base. But to what extent do we shore up Marcos against his own people?