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Though the election is still more than a month away, the race for San Francisco district attorney is entering a critical stage — particularly for incumbent Terence Hallinan’s two challengers. Bill Fazio and Kamala Harris must — over the din of the Oct. 7 recall — battle for the moderate-to-conservative voters most likely to cast absentee ballots in the November city race. Meanwhile, Hallinan, Fazio and Harris are fighting for neighborhood support, with Chinatown, in particular, emerging as a key front. On Oct. 6, a day before the recall, the city will begin sending absentee ballots to voters. Mark Mosher, a partner at San Francisco campaign consultants Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, predicts that “absentee voters are going to be a real battleground” for Fazio and Harris. Hallinan probably has less of a stake in that battle because absentee voters tend to be moderate to conservative, and Hallinan widely paints himself as the most progressive DA in the country, Mosher said. Conventional wisdom says district attorney candidates can’t compete for voters’ attention with the gubernatorial recall election approaching, Mosher said. “The sense is that these guys are rowboats out in the shipping lanes with ocean liners and shouldn’t really engage in a lot of media spending until they’re sure it’s going to cut through. “If you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t necessarily want your one mailer trapped under 18 pieces of recall mail,” and the same goes for television spots, Mosher said. And clearly, voters are still not paying much attention to the race. A recent poll commissioned by SFSOS, a membership organization that says it’s focused on quality-of-life issues in the city, showed 31 percent of voters are still undecided. In the same poll of 600 likely voters, 33 percent said they would vote for Hallinan, 24 percent for Fazio and 12 percent for Harris. The poll was conducted from late July to the first week of August by Oakland-based Evans/McDonough Co. and has a 4.4 percent margin of error, SFSOS said. “The general public at large, I don’t think they’ve crystallized a lot of opinions about any of the candidates in this race,” said Peter Keane, dean of Golden Gate University School of Law and frequent political commentator. “It’s wide open. “I would expect that in the last couple of weeks of the campaign it’ll get very dirty,” he added. Though Harris has been the most aggressive candidate in the mailbox wars — sending more than 100,000 mailers to San Francisco residents to date — most of the action has been on the streets. All three are targeting Chinatown and the Chinese community at large. Hallinan, for example, was at a Chinatown restaurant Wednesday to announce the opening of a new community court. “My polling indicates that the Chinese community is a swing voter block that’s really up for grabs,” said Jim Stearns, Harris’ campaign strategist. “That’s why we’re working so hard there.” Harris has had a Chinese-language TV commercial running since mid-August, according to her campaign. Hallinan focused on the Chinese and African-American communities in his 1999 run-off win over Fazio, said Marc O’Hara, a spokesman for the Hallinan campaign. “We did way better in the Bayview and way better in Chinatown” than in the general election that year, he said. “It was a matter of focus.” The Bayview is also a key battleground this year. “It’s certainly more of a battle in the Bayview,” O’Hara said, noting that Harris has opened her campaign headquarters there. Fazio’s camp said he is planning this weekend to kick off a door-to-door campaign. He will target certain unnamed precincts, hitting about 5,000 homes a weekend, said Duane Baughman, Fazio’s campaign consultant. Getting voters to pay attention over the next few weeks will take money, and right now Harris has the most money still in the bank. In campaign finance reports filed Thursday, Harris reported $72,749 on hand as of Saturday — narrowly edging Fazio, who had $72,037. A general purpose committee called the California Voter Project has raised roughly $7,500 to spend on Harris’ behalf, according to political consultant Philip Muller, the committee’s political director. So far the group has distributed thousands of window signs and bumper stickers touting Harris, Muller said, adding, “We’d like to do billboards, direct mail, radio.” The group is also working on “a stop Arnold effort” for the Oct. 7 recall election, Muller said. Hallinan reported $31,573 in the bank as of Saturday.

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