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California Faces Political Shake-Up

With two Senate races and additional House seats, the scramble is on for the 1992 elections. THE POLITICS OF SUCCESSION

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THE Great Succession War is on in California. Even though the state is still wiping its brow after an intense election campaign, it may now be heading into the most frenetic political period in its history.

The reason is an unusual convergence of events. With Sen. Pete Wilson winning the governor's mansion and Sen. Alan Cranston deciding not to seek reelection, California will have its two Senate seats up in the same year for the first time in history.

By that time, 1992, the state may also have seven new congressional seats to fill as a result of redistricting, and other House races will be competitive.

Moreover, because of the term-limits measure passed here last week, many state lawmakers will be looking to move up the political ladder, leaving their seats vacant and adding to the political whirligig.

``It's chaos,'' says Eileen Padberg, a GOP political consultant.

``It is unbelievable,'' says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, an analyst at the Claremont Graduate School. ``It almost feels like the state is on fast-forward.''

The outcome will help determine the shape of the country's largest congressional delegation. It will also, inevitably, lead to the rise of new political faces in California, which often sees its favorite sons and daughters move up higher later on.

Money will be a key to the succession scramble. With the two Senate races coinciding with a presidential election, tens of millions of dollars will have to be raised to feed the television maw.

``It is going to be a boom year for political junkies, a boom year for political consultants, and a terrible year for political contributors,'' says Kenneth Khachigian, a longtime GOP operative.

The first order of business will be for Mr. Wilson to appoint a sucessor to the Senate. By law, the appointee has to face the voters in the first general election, which is 1992, and again two years later, when the Wilson term expires. Thus the importance of deep pockets.

The last two United States Senate contests in California cost around $20 million. Republican Wilson and Democrat Dianne Feinstein spent $40 million in their gubernatorial battle.

Wilson has said little about whom he might appoint, other than it will be someone who is ideologically similar on major issues. That almost certainly means a supporter of abortion rights. Wilson favors the death penalty and opposes offshore drilling. In the Senate, he was a strong supporter of the ``star wars'' missile defense program and Israel.


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