One man is a political outsider, catapulted to national prominence as one-half of the Jarvis-Gann team that fathered California's Proposition 13 tax revolt.
The second man is an insider, a political veteran and Democrat cumm Republican who served 12 years as mayor of Los Angeles, ran two unsuccessful campaigns for governor, and even took a shot at the presidency.
Paul Gann and Sam Yorty both hope to unset veteran Sen. Alan Cranston -- one of the half-dozen Democratic US senators listed on the so-called "hit list" of the Natonal Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC).
But before either one of them challenges Mr. Cranston in November, the two men must take on each other -- and five other GOP candidates -- in California's June 3 primary.
Eclipsed by the presidential race and controversial propositions on tax cuts, rent control, and a tax on oil profits, the Republican Senate race has generated little voter enthusiasm.
According to recent polls, tax rebel Gann and former Mayor Yorty are well ahead of their opponents -- and are virtually tied.However, those same polls also show that four in every 10 Republican voters remain undecided.
Senator Cranston faces token opposition in the primary. But he was targeted last August, along with other liberal senators like George McGovern and Birch Bayh, by the NCPAC, which has raised $90,000 of the $400,000 it plans to spent to oust him in November.
The two-term lagislator, argues NCPAC and the Republicans now vying to run against him, has been too soft on defense and too liberal on spending. Mr. Cranston was a leader of the fight ratify the Panama Canal treties and opposes of the Kemp-Roth tax cut bill -- both unforgivable positions in the eyes of staunch conservatives.
But Republicans concede their battle to defeat Mr. Cranston promises to be an uphill one. According to a recent California Poll, Mr. Cranston would beat Mr. Gann in November by a healthy 59 to 27 percent, and Mr. Yorty by an even wider margin, 62 to 23 percent.
No personal attacks have marred the Republican race, which one political observer characterizes as "at best, lackluster." Nor has there been anything even approaching heated debate over issues.
In fact, admits Yorty campaign manager Larry Peck, "I don't see a hair's difference between the two of them on the issues. . . . Voters won't be making up their minds on the issues. It'll be more a question of personality and style."
In a Republican race where money is admittedly very tight, Mr. Gann has easily garnered the biggest war chest -- an estimated $325,000 for the primary.
In the final pre-election days, much of that money has been spent on advertisements portraying Mr. Gann as a folksy people's hero who tackles politicians and big budgets.
"It's sort of like Mr. Smith goes to Congress," explains Gann campaign manager Ed Slevin.
An Arkansas native, the "down home" Mr. Gann has parlayed his co-authorship of the tax-slashed Proposition 13 into a political rise outside the party ranks -- following a route laid down by former Sen. George Murphy and ex-Gov. Ronald Reagan, both actors; Sen. S. I. Hayakawa, a well-known semanticist and one-time president of San Francisco State College; and California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, a record company executive.
Mr. Yorty, on the other hand, is a longtime political maverick now waging his 19th campaign. First elected to the state assembly more than 40 years ago, he was defeated in his bid for a third term as Los Angeles's mayor by now Mayor Tom Bradley in 1973.
Although his campaign has been able to raise only $50,000 so far, Yorty strategists hope their candidate's long career, coupled with the name recognition he furthered during five years as a television talk show host, will sway voters next Tuesday.