Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Cooley, Harris Go on Attack as General Election Air War Begins
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The major party candidates for California attorney general have taken to the airwaves, attacking each other in what is generally regarded as a close race.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican hopeful, yesterday launched his first spots of the campaign, 15- and 30-second versions of an ad the hits Democratic rival Kamala Harris on issues that also featured prominently during the primary.
As promised at the outset of the general election campaign, the Cooley ads hit Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, on her opposition to the death penalty, her handling of an evidence-tampering scandal at the San Francisco crime lab, and her attitudes towards law enforcement.
Both versions feature a screen shot of Harris with the words “Errors and Misjudgments” featured prominently, quoting a San Francisco Superior Court judge who was referring to the crime lab scandal. Hundreds of cases were dismissed after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that prosecutors had violated defendants’ rights by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence regarding a technician who had been stealing drug samples.
The ad notes that Harris has refused to seek the death penalty during her tenure, and specifically cites the case of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza, who was murdered in the Bayview district in 2004. The case resulted in the defendant being convicted of second degree murder of a police officer and sentenced to the maximum of life imprisonment without parole
The ads also accuse Harris of responsibility for the killing of three people who were murdered by an alleged gang member who had been released a month earlier after being arrested on a gang charge. That release, the announcer explains, was the result of the killer ”being protected by a policy Harris supports,” with the words “city officials refused to notify immigration authorities” appearing in large letters on the screen.
While the 15-second spot is confined to an attack on Harris, the longer version highlights Cooley’s backing by more than 40 law enforcement organizations—to zero for Harris—and ends with the district attorney of the state’s largest county sitting behind his desk saying: “As your attorney general, I’ll fight for you.”
The release of the Cooley ads follows Harris’ first ad last week. It features a clip of a debate—the only one between the candidates so far, and perhaps the only one of the campaign—in which Cooley said he would accept his county pension—calculated in one newspaper story as nearly $290,000—in addition to the salary paid the attorney general, about $150,000.
Asked by a panelist whether he intended to “double dip,” Cooley responded:
“Yes, I do. I earned it. I definitely earned wheatever pension rights I have and I will certainly rely upon that to supplement the very low, incredibly low, salary that’s paid to the state attorney general.”
The ad features on-screen text saying: “$150,000 a year isn’t enough?”
Fred Huebscher, a Hermosa Beach-based political consultant who isn’t working for either campaign, but who has previously rated Cooley as the favorite in the race, told the MetNews that the Harris ad “may be a game-changer.”
While California reportedly pays its attorney general less than any other large state except New York, Huebscher explained, “telling people that $150,000 is an ultra-low salary ....is not a selling point for a statewide candidate in this day and age.”
“Here is a candidate who looked like he was going to get elected because of his record and his opponent’s weaknesses as a crime fighter, but this may change the dynamic. His comment creates the impression that he is out of touch with average Californians, and in general the electorate has never liked double-dipping.”
While Cooley could have limited the damage by simply explaining that he had paid into a pension plan for nearly 40 years and was taking benefits that he had earned, he did himself unnecessary harm by disparaging a salary that is nearly three times the state’s median family income, the consultant said,
“It could be the difference in a close election,” Huebscher said. The Field Poll, an independent indicator of public opinion with a long history of accuracy, recently showed Cooley up four points.
The Harris campaign responded with numbers by a Democratic-leaning pollster who had Harris up by three. Both polls showed large numbers of undecideds.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company