Armed with $1 million from contributors and $20 million of his own money, the Republican congressman is barreling toward an explosive Election Day encounter with incumbent Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a media fight that's dominated the crowded California election scene.
Rep. Huf-fington and Sen. Feinstein together will set a new land-speed record for non-presidential campaign spending on one race, about $30 million of their own and supporters' money. The previous record of about $27 million came in the 1990 contest between Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt.
Over half of the 29 spots produced for the Huffington campaign are negative, blistering attacks on Sen. Feinstein. The intensity of this and other races has made it virtually impossible to find TV time in the state these days.
"We're not taking any new business," said Bill Emerson, manager-program and political sales, KNBC-TV, Los Angeles. "The Senate candidates are buying every night on all the news shows."
The Huffington campaign broke its penultimate ad blitz last week, a scalding attack that accused Sen. Feinstein of casting votes benefiting a company in which her husband, millionaire Richard Blum, is a shareholder. Whether true or not-and the Feinstein camp said it's not-the commercial removes the spouse spotlight from Rep. Huffington, whose wife, Arianne, was attacked for belonging to a religious cult.
The Huffington ads were produced by Larry McCarthy, a Washington political consultant whose resume includes the infamous "Willie Horton" commercial from the 1988 presidential campaign. Farrell Media, New York, handles placement.
The Feinstein campaign responded with public appearances. She and her husband denied the charges, and Sen. Feinstein said the Senate Ethics Committee knew of her husband's business affairs long before her votes. She earlier aired TV spots from Morris & Carrick, San Francisco, attacking her opponent's business record.
In other high-profile races, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) used free media to reinvigorate his campaign. After watching Republican challenger Mitt Romney pull into a virtual dead heat by Labor Day, Sen. Kennedy emerged from an Oct. 25 TV debate virtually untouched and with a double-digit lead in a Boston Herald poll.
In New York, a free media event may have turned the tide for beleaguered Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. GOP New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani took the politically dangerous tack of endorsing his longtime friend, and pulled the governor nearly even with state Sen. George Pataki.
Paid media also helped. The Garth Group, New York, last week aired a testimonial starring former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iaccoca. Axelrod & Associates, Chicago, produced a nasty 30-second jab at Sen. Pataki and his close ties to U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato (R., N.Y.), the target of ethics charges.
Arguably the nastiest campaign pits Sen. Chuck Robb (D., Va.) against Lt. Col. Oliver North.
A TV spot by Lt. Col. North's agency, Murphy Pintak Gautier, Alexandria, Va., showed a copy of Playboy with a cover photo of Tai Collins, the model with whom Sen. Robb denied committing adultery. Sen. Robb accused his opponent of continuous lying in spots from Doak, Shrum, Harris, Carrier, Devine, Arlington.
Texas Gov. Ann Richards, in a virtual deadlock with George W. Bush, the Republican challenger and former President Bush's son, last week used targeted radio from Knapp & Ochs, Washington, to blast her opponent for failing to help blacks and for his business record. The Bush campaign, through National Media, Alexandria, Va., responded with African American testimonials.
Separately, it's punch/counterpunch between the Republican and Democratic national committees. Each rolled a $2 million spot campaign targeting specific, but unidentified, markets. Democrats-using Grunwald, Eskew, Donilon, Washington-attacked two weeks ago, saying Republicans favor a return to Reaganomics. Republicans-via Greg Stevens & Co., Alexandria, Va.-responded last week by inviting voters to "send the Clinton Congress home."