A special congressional election in California today has become a battleground for special interest groups intent on turning the local contest into a national referendum on abortion and term limits.
The election pits Lois Capps (D), against Tom Bordonaro (R). They are vying for the House seat for California's 22nd District vacated by the death of Mrs. Capps's husband, Rep. Walter Capps, last October.
But the candidates have taken second place to a war between anti-abortion groups and abortion-rights activists. Supporters of limits on how many terms legislators can serve have also fielded a series of television advertisements.
The two candidates call the activities of special-interest groups an unwanted intrusion into the election and wonder if voters are even noticing them and the issues between them - health care, the environment, education, and Social Security.
"These people have created a lot of noise and they have made it difficult for the two campaigns to communicate their messages," says Mr. Bordonaro's press secretary, Todd Harris. "They have reduced the candidates to spectators."
Although groups like the Christian Coalition, the Catholic Alliance, and conservative Gary Bauer's Campaign for Working Families have all come out in support of Bordonaro, Mr. Harris says he wishes they had not.
The Capps camp would also rather see the special-interest groups go away. "They are affecting the campaign because when someone comes in and buys hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising in a relatively cheap media market it distracts the voters from the real issues," says Capps's campaign manager, Cathy DeVall.
But the Democrats were not as upset as the Republicans, although the majority of the TV ads are against Capps. "We think Bordonaro's people are complaining so they will have an excuse when they lose," says Ms. DeVall.
WHILE the two candidates have tried to stick to their issues, the warring special interests groups have bombarded television viewers with a series of expensive ads.
National newspapers have reported that Mr. Bauer spent $200,000 for ads pushing his pro-life views on television.
Pro-choice groups have lashed back with their own ads denouncing Bauer. Neither side's ads mention the candidates.
Bordonaro, a California state assemblyman who opposes so-called partial-birth abortions, used the issue to defeat moderate Republican Brooks Firestone in the primary election, accusing him of favoring such procedures.
But local political observers say there has been a backlash against Bordonaro's primary election tactics, noting that some prominent local Republicans have attended Capps's fund-raisers.