Los Angeles mayor locked in uphill struggle for governorship

On the stump at sun-dappled San Jose State University, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley recently lambasted his opponent in the California gubernatorial campaign for his record on toxic-waste control. Almost simultaneously, two Hollywood heavyweights, Carrol O'Connor and Burt Lancaster, were making a similar pitch in a series of TV commercials.

The two episodes marked a return to what has been a recurring, and effective, theme of the Bradley campaign: to portray him as a better pollution fighter than his Republican rival, Gov. George Deukmejian.

The question is, how much will this or any other tactic help the mayor in the campaign's waning days?

With a week to go before election day, Mr. Bradley is locked in an uphill struggle to take over the top job of the most populous state.

Although polls show the Democratic mayor potentially within striking distance, they haven't revealed the kind of momentum that would be needed for Bradley to overtake Mr. Deukmejian in their gubernatorial rematch. In fact, in the most recent survey, released Monday by Teichner Associates, Deukmejian widened his lead to 13 points, picking up considerable support among some Democrats.

``It's a question of how many points he loses by,'' says Joe Scott, publisher of the California Eye, a political newsletter.

The mayor has been battling some long odds. One is the inevitable difficulty of taking on an incumbent, who has the power to command media attention almost at will. This is particularly important in California, where no sitting governor has been voted out since 1942.

Bradley has also been far outspent by his GOP opponent, at least 2 to 1 in the past three months. The mayor has tried to respond partly by using innovative campaign tactics. Earlier this month, his camp kicked off a 1,000-mile relay run from San Diego to Sacramento.

Ostensibly the effort is designed to get people involved in the political process. But the Olympic-style relay also reminds voters of one of his most visible triumphs as mayor, the handling of the 1984 Los Angeles summer games, and gives his campaign free publicity in the final days of the race.

On the stump, meanwhile, Bradley often accuses the governor of trying to buy the election. Despite the parries, there is little substitution for money in California politics, although the Bradley camp does maintain it has enough on hand for TV spots between now and Nov. 4.

``You can't run effectively in this state without a good deal of money,'' says Larry Berg, director of the Institute of Government and Politics at the University of Southern California.

Another snag has been what pundits see as the mayor's inability to find many popular issues on which the governor is vulnerable. ``There is nothing terribly annoying to the voters about Deukmejian,'' says Bud Lembke, editor of the Political Pulse newsletter.

The economy does have some soft spots, notably the semiconductor industry and farming. Nevertheless, overall economic conditions are good. ``Voters usually don't see a reason to throw out an incumbent when the economy is going well,'' California pollster Mervin Field says.

Bradley is expected to continue to stress the environment and the governor's ``lack of leadership.'' Deukmejian, for his part, has been scoring the mayor on taxes, crime, and his stance on Rose Elizabeth Bird, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. The governor favors unseating the embattled chief justice and two other court members facing reconfirmation, while Bradley has remained neutral on the issue.

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