Tags: California | GOP | Primary | Victory | Now | for | Grabs

California GOP Primary Victory Now up for Grabs

Sunday, 24 February 2002 12:00 AM

Here's how the LA Times put it in mid-January: "Among voters considered most likely to vote in the primary, Richard Riordan has a double digit lead against his rivals Bill Simon and Bill Jones, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll. In the Republican Primary match-up (including "declined-to-state" voters who will vote Republican on March 5th), Riordan receives 34 percent of support, Simon comes in at a distant second with 20 percent and Jones' support is at 13 percent. However a third of GOP likely voters are undecided."

By mid February, however, the Riordan shoo-in factor had ceased to be operative.

"The dynamics in the governor's race have changed dramatically," a new Public Policy Institute poll revealed. "Richard Riordan still leads in the GOP primary race, but Bill Simon is gaining ground. Among likely voters, Riordan held a 37-point lead over Simon in January (41 percent to 4 percent). By mid-February, Riordan's lead had shrunk to 17 points (41 percent to 24 percent)."

Most observers attribute Simon's sudden surge in the polls to his massive TV ad campaign, most of it paid for out of his own pocket. Another factor, they say, is the unremitting assault by Jones and other Republicans launched against Riordan questioning his habit of contributing to Democrat candidates.

Riordan's opponents have jumped on his history of supporting Democratic candidates and causes, noting he's donated more money to Democrats than to Republicans over the years and have questioned his allegiance to his own party. They have especially focused on his contributions to Governor Gray Davis and Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein.

Former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, who supports Jones, has attacked Riordan for trying "to be all things to all people." Riordan had backed Deukmejian's opponent when he ran for re-election.

On the plus side, Riordan has obvious backing from the political pros in the White House who think his reputation as a moderate will help him win in liberal California. As a result of that belief, many Republicans have backed him despite his support of such hot button issues as abortion rights and gay rights - both anathema to most Republicans.

"At least at the leadership level, many Republicans who are more conservative than him see him as good for the Republican Party because he gives them a strong candidate at the top of the ticket," according to Democrat operative Bill Carrick, who worked for Riordan in his re-election campaign for mayor in 1997.

That opinion appears to be shared by Governor Davis, who has gone after Riordan tooth and nail. Observers say there's a good reason - Davis hopes to help Riordan's GOP opponents knock him out of the race in the March 5th primary.

Writing in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, John Marelius reported that Davis "is pursuing the unprecedented strategy of trying to cripple the other party's strongest candidate before the primary election, if not take him out altogether."

Noting that polls show the majority of voters don't approve of Davis' performance as governor, Marelius wondered why the Democrats aren't working hard to repair his image during a primary campaign in which he has no serious opposition, instead of attacking a potential GOP opponent.

Instead "Davis' well-funded campaign has directed a withering advertising barrage at former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, once seen by Republican Party leaders as the best hope for denying Davis a second term," he wrote.

"I've never seen a campaign in which the incumbent runs a series of pure attacks against a person who has yet to reach the nomination," Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford University political scientist who has written extensively about political advertising told the Times.

And the tactic makes sense to the pros.

"It's a very shrewd strategy," Roy Behr, told the Times. Behr, a Democratic media consultant uninvolved in the Davis campaign added that "One of two things will happen: Either they will help Riordan lose the primary or they will help him come out of the primary badly damaged."

One Davis ad charges that under the ex-mayor, the L. A. Department of Water and Power profited at the expense of California taxpayers during the state's electricity crisis. Another cited by the Times blames Riordan for rising crime in Los Angeles and another stresses Riordan's allegedly inconsistent statements about capital punishment.

Last week, a Davis ad hit Riordan on his stands on abortion and the death penalty - two issues where Riordan has waffled. He was once quoted as calling abortion "murder" and claimed to be pro-life but now says he favors a woman's right to choose.

Bill Jones' cash-starved campaign has succeeded in hurting Riordan, but has done little to help his own cause.

"I really think if Jones had any money he would win when you've got Simon and Riordan attacking each other," Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg told the Times "I think the attacks Riordan and Simon have on each other are effective. There are people who would walk away saying, 'I don't like Riordan, I don't like Simon.' But they don't see Jones as an option if he's not on the air."

Simon's steadily increasing support among likely GOP voters stems from his reputation as a staunch conservative backed by some of the nation's leading conservative figures such as William F. Buckley and former National Review publisher Bill Rusher, now a California resident.

In state where the crime rate is a hot issue, Simon's background as a tough federal prosecutor in New York under Rudy Guilliani has given him a boost among voters. Guilliani has also done commercials strongly backing his former associate.

Simon led off with ads featuring the endorsement of his longtime friend Giulliani. The Times noted that he followed that up "with ads highlighting stands designed to appeal to economic conservatives, particularly his pledge not to raise taxes."

The result of Simon's ad campaign: A statewide poll released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Simon had capitalized on the doubts raised about Riordan by Davis, Jones and himself had given him name recognition and helped him gain an astonishing 20 percentage points on Riordan just the past month.

But experts point out that he still has a long way to go, and little over a week to get there. If he does, it will be one of the biggest political upsets of the year.

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Here's how the LA Times put it in mid-January: Among voters considered most likely to vote in the primary, Richard Riordan has a double digit lead against his rivals Bill Simon and Bill Jones, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll. In the Republican Primary...
Sunday, 24 February 2002 12:00 AM
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