Heflin Defends Senate Seat With Humor; Bush, Reagan Help Republican With AM-1992 Risks, BjtPHILLIP RAWLS , Associated Press
Sep. 27, 1990 1:17 PM ET
MONTGOMERY, ALA. MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Democrat Howell Heflin pokes fun at ''Gucci-poochie'' Republicans and cultivates the image of a back-slapping Southern politician as he asks voters to re-elect him to the U.S. Senate.
But his Republican challenger is hoping to cut short Heflin's Senate career with the same kind of upset that Democrat Richard Shelby pulled off in Alabama in 1986 against Republican Sen. Jeremiah Denton.
''Every poll shows us closing,'' says state Sen. Bill Cabaniss. ''The race is winnable.''
Cabaniss has a lot of distance to close - polls put Heflin's lead at about 3-1 this summer.
His long-shot campaign is getting some high-level help. President Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, and federal drug czar William Bennett have come to Alabama to campaign for him, and former President Reagan is coming Saturday.
Heflin, who at times plays the role of a country store humorist, fills his campaign speeches with jokes about Republicans, or, as he calls them, ''the Grey Poupon crowd, the Gucci-poochie-coochie shoe-wearing, Mercedes-driving, polo-playing, jacuzzi-soaking, Perrier-drinking, Aspen-skiing, ritzy rich, high-society Republicans who eat broccoli.''
Cabaniss does live in Mountain Brook, Birmingham's wealthiest suburb, and was a director of Alabama's largest bank until he resigned to prevent any conflict with his Senate bid. He also belongs to an all-white country club, but he drives an American-made car and has long worn plain support shoes.
''If that's all Heflin has to run on - personalities and personal criticism - he has no business being a U.S. senator,'' Cabaniss said. ''I consider politics serious business.''
Cabaniss, 52, has earned a reputation as being all business during his four years in the Alabama House and eight in the state Senate. His starched white shirt and short, slicked-back hair have become trademarks of a man who explores the smallest details of state budgets.
Heflin, 69, resembles the stereotypical Southern politician with his hefty frame, cream-colored suits, and warm personality. But his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee has earned him a reputation as a thoughtful questioner of presidential appointments and as one who often casts the deciding vote.
Heflin's Senate voting record shows him siding with the Republican administration more than 70 percent of the time and often being more loyal than some Republican senators, including Quayle in 1988.
But his crucial votes on the Judiciary Committee against Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship in Alabama have become central issues in the campaign. Bork himself has campaigned on Cabaniss' behalf.
''When you look at the votes that define a person's philosophy, you are going to see Mr. Heflin lined up with Ted Kennedy and Joseph Biden,'' Cabaniss said.
Pat Cotter, a University of Alabama political scientist and pollster, said Heflin's conservative voting record on economic and social issues has left Cabaniss without the usual campaign issues raised by Republicans.
''One indication of that is Cabaniss' use of the environmental issue, which is not normally a Republican issue,'' Cotter said.
Cabaniss spent a month paddling Alabama rivers during the summer campaign. He has picked up endorsements from environmental groups, including the Alabama Sierra Club, that were upset by Heflin votes against stronger amendments to the Clean Air Act and to delay legislation that would expand a federal wilderness area in north Alabama.
Heflin, who was first elected to the Senate in 1978, dismissed the endorsements as coming from ''extremist groups.'' He said the groups ignored many strong points in his environmental record, including getting double liners installed at Alabama's giant hazardous waste landfill.
Last week, Cabaniss called on Heflin to resign as chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee because he accepted a $2,000 contribution last year from a political action committee affiliated with Sen. Alan Cranston, who is under investigation by the committee for his intervention with bank regulators.
Heflin said the donation was unsolicited and the name of the donor, the National Committee for Democratic Consensus, gave no indication it was tied to the California senator. After discovering the donation's origin in July 1990, ''we returned it ... out of an abundance of caution,'' Heflin said.
Along with a lead in the polls, Heflin is running well ahead in campaign funds. Financial reports on June 30 showed him with $2.7 million, compared to Cabaniss' $444,000.
Cotter and Margaret Latimer, an Auburn University political scientist specializing in Alabama politics, said Heflin appears to have nothing to worry about.
''I perceive him to be very safe,'' Latimer said. ''I don't think Cabaniss has brought up much he can hold against Heflin except the environmental issue.''