California Race Becomes Battle Of Special Interests Abortion, Term Limits Groups At War In Runoff Election

MONDAY, FEB. 23, 1998

To watch the television spots, you’d think late-term abortions and term limits are all that California’s central coast voters care about.

Special interest groups are bombarding the airwaves with attack ads to sway voters in a hotly contested runoff in the state’s 22nd Congressional District.

At stake is the seat of late Democratic Rep. Walter Capps, whose death from a heart attack in October forced a March 10 special election.

The race has received national attention not only as the first House election of the 1998 congressional season but as a testing ground for the debate over term limits and abortion.

Hoping to pad their 227-203 majority in the House, Republicans want to retake a seat they held for decades until Capps won it for the Democrats just 15 months ago.

And Democrats, not wanting to lose any ground going into the fall elections, are hoping to go into the season one up on the GOP.

But it’s the special interest groups that are heating things up as they test out issues-oriented ad campaigns that they plan to use to influence elections across the country.

“We’re looking at other races right now,” said Connie Mackey, co-director of the conservative Campaign for Working Families.

Mackey’s group already has spent $100,000 in the 22nd District, which encompasses Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The candidates are Democrat Lois Capps, the congressman’s widow, conservative Republican Tom Bordonaro Jr. and Libertarian Robert Bakhaus.

Of the district’s 355,867 registered voters, 82 percent are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The remaining 12 percent are unaffiliated and considered a crucial swing bloc.

But it is special interest ads and not their opponents that the candidates often times appear to be running against.

Capps went on the defensive last week, airing ads to rebut claims by the Campaign for Working Families that she supports late-term abortions, known as “partial-birth abortions” by opponents.

Although a strong supporter of abortion rights, Capps does not support late-term abortions except in rare cases where a mother’s life is at risk or the pregnancy is “fatally flawed.” She is running ads day and night defending her position.

Another group, U.S. Term Limits, is airing commercials in support of Capps, although she said she does not welcome the help.

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