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California Could Send 2 Jews (and 2 Women) to U.S. Senate

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The scenario is optimistic but far from fanciful: When the 103rd Congress convenes next January, the two new U.S. senators from California will be women — and Jewish.

Even more, with a record number of Jews vying for congressional seats, the nation’s largest state is likely to send more Jewish representatives to Washington than ever before.

By a fluke, California will choose both its senators at the same time this year. One will fill the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston for a full six-year term. The second will serve the two years remaining in the term of Republican Pete Wilson, who was elected governor.

The state’s June 2 primaries will pick the Democratic and Republican contenders for the long and short Senate terms. Among the 10 serious contenders, nine are considered pro-Israel and four are Jewish.

In the race for the two-year post, Dianne Goldman Feinstein, the former mayor of San Francisco, has jumped into an early lead. The polls for the Democratic primary show her with a 29 percent lead over her main rival, state Controller Gray Davis.

Her likely Republican opponent in November will be the incumbent, John Seymour, who was appointed by Wilson to fill the vacancy he left when he became governor. If the elections were held today, Feinstein would beat Seymour by 30 percent, according to the California Poll.

In the Democratic primary for the six-year term, Rep. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from Marin County, north of San Francisco, is at this point slightly ahead of both Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy and another Jewish member of Congress, Rep. Mel Levine of Los Angeles.

The race is too close to call, but if this is indeed the Year of the Women in politics, as pundits maintain, Boxer may have a slight edge.

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In the tight Republican primary for the six-year term, conservative television commentator Bruce Herschensohn has made his hard-line, pro-Israel stance a major campaign point against his more liberal opponent, Rep. Tom Campbell of Palo Alto. Trailing behind is former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono, best known as actress Cher’s ex-husband and former singing partner.

If both Feinstein and Boxer win their primaries and then triumph in November, they will in one blow double the number of women in the 100-seat U.S. Senate and add substantially to the Jewish bloc, which now stands at eight senators.

Both women have had to contend with some unwelcome publicity. The congressional check scandal revealed that Boxer had written 143 overdrafts at the now-defunct House bank.

And in a lawsuit filed by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Feinstein was accused of misreporting $8.4 million in expenses, loans and contributions during her unsuccessful 1990 bid for governor.

Neither of these derelictions appears to have seriously harmed the two politicians.

With voters’ attention distracted by the Los Angeles riots, earthquakes, the state’s first execution in 25 years and the presidential race, senatorial candidates are making few major public appearances and are waging what has been described as an “invisible campaign.”

Much of their time and energy is spent on raising funds to pay for TV commercials. Before it is over, the combined outlay by all senatorial candidates is expected to reach a $50 million.

Following the 1990 census, the Golden State will have a bumper crop of 52 seats in the next House of Representatives, about 12 percent of the total, of which 31 are in Southern California.

Some 100 credible candidates are running in these 31 congressional districts, of whom 16 are Jews–another record number — including a strong contingent in San Diego. (One fringe candidate is Orthodox Rabbi Felix Rogin, who is running as a Libertarian and lists himself on the ballot as “rabbi and accountant.”)

In the present 45-member California House delegation, six are Jews. Although Boxer and Levine are vacating their seats to run for the Senate, knowledgeable analysts are predicting that the state’s next delegation may well include eight or nine Jewish representatives.

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