Tags: California's | GOP | Candidates | Stake | Out | Turf

California's GOP Candidates Stake Out Turf

Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM

Analysts saw the encounter, the first of three debates scheduled before the primary, as a key opportunity for candidates Richard Riordon -- the former mayor of Los Angeles, businessman Bill Simon and California Secretary of State Bill Jones to establish some name recognition and energize what has thus far been a fairly easy-going campaign to oust incumbent Democrat Gray Davis.

The civil tone continued Tuesday as the candidates largely stuck to short and well-rehearsed espousals of their platforms and past accomplishments.

"The challenge for our party is to show that Gray Davis has failed to lead and that we have a plan for the future," Jones said during the hour-long sometimes spirited debate at San Jose State University.

Unlike past campaigns, California Republicans are holding their primary on March 5 rather than waiting until June, which makes it imperative that the candidates act fast in order to drum up support among the state's large bloc of undecided voters.

Riordan leads both Simon and Jones in recent polls and appears to be in a position to give Davis a run for his money in the November election. He stood out from the other two candidates, at one point calling himself a "non-partisan" leader during his two terms as mayor, but also "a Republican all my life."

"We need a new Republican party and I believe that tonight you are starting to see that," said Riordan, who insisted that the GOP had to court women and minority, "but mostly, respect their differences."

Neither Jones nor Simon sought to alienate any potential voters, however, they tended to stick closer to the conservative side of the issues and politely pressed Riordan on whether he could consider himself a true Republican given his well-known penchant for courting Democratic politicians and supporters while mayor.

"I had to get along with Democratic administrations in Washington and Sacramento, and I'm not sorry I did it," Riordan said.

Jones observed that the governor operates in a more politically partisan atmosphere than a big city mayor and must also be a state party leader.

Simon agreed and said, "We need to stick to our (Republican) principles."

Riordan was also chided for Los Angeles' role in last year's energy crisis. Because it has its own municipal power department, Los Angeles was immune to rolling blackouts and was able to sell surplus power to the rest of the state at a tidy profit.

"I'm proud of what we did on Los Angeles," Riordan said in his defense. "We supplied energy to the rest of the state at costs less than what was being charged by private companies."

Riordan made it clear, however, that he could have made a tidier profit had he sold power outside the state on the open spot market.

Simon, an investor and the son of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, has never held political office. However, he has been aggressively making his presence known in recent weeks with radio and television ads -- plus press conferences -- to announce the endorsements of law enforcement and taxpayer organizations as well as the recent enthusiastic endorsement by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Republican voters want a candidate who will protect them from further tax increases," Simon said after the debate. "It was crystal clear tonight that I am the only candidate that will not raise taxes."

Jones is the only Republican holding a major elected state office. Some analysts see his campaign as having fewer resources than the well-heeled duo of Riordan and Simon, however, he has been busily courting Hispanic groups as well as the party's backbone of conservative voters. His aides insist that he will be able to mount a television ad campaign in time to shore up his support for the primary.

Media coverage is particularly important in a large state such as California where personal contact with millions of voters spread out in an area roughly the size of Japan or Sweden can prove daunting to candidates.

Riordan, for example, planned to spend Wednesday on a bus trip through Central California that includes seven stops, of which only a morning speech in San Jose is considered a major media market.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Analysts saw the encounter, the first of three debates scheduled before the primary, as a key opportunity for candidates Richard Riordon -- the former mayor of Los Angeles, businessman Bill Simon and California Secretary of State Bill Jones to establish some name...
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Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM
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