- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

LOS ANGELES Richard Riordan doesn't look much like the kind of candidate conservative Republicans usually recruit to run for governor.
After eight years as mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Riordan has supported California Democratic politicians like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and his mayoral predecessor, Tom Bradley. He even gave a donation to one of current Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' earlier campaigns. His own campaigns for mayor were managed in part by Democratic consultants. He's pro-choice, anti-school voucher, staunchly anti-electric deregulation, pro-environment and pro-gun control.
But in the past month this Republican ex-mayor who often sounds more like a Democrat has received at least one phone call from President Bush, twice was called to meetings with Mr. Bush's chief political counselor, Karl Rove, and has received a petition urging him to challenge Mr. Davis next year. It was signed by some of the most conservative Republican California congressmen David Dreier, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Duncan Hunter, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, and Dana Rohrabacher among them.
Polls explain better than anything else why Mr. Riordan is suddenly the darling of his party's conservatives after infuriating them for years.
The California Field Poll in May showed Mr. Riordan running even with the embattled incumbent governor, whose favorable ratings had dropped well below 50 percent. In contrast, Mr. Davis held double-digit leads over the two declared Republican candidates, California Secretary of State Bill Jones and financier William Simon Jr.
A Los Angeles Times poll released June 29 showed two months without blackouts in California have raised Mr. Davis' stock a bit: The survey found he now leads Mr. Riordan by about 10 points, while Mr. Jones and Mr. Simon run much further back.
The polls made it plain that Mr. Riordan is currently the GOP's best hope to reverse a 10-year trend toward Democratic control of California, where Mr. Jones is now the lone Republican in statewide office. He will leave his current office after next year in keeping with term limits.
In their two meetings, Mr. Rove reportedly promised Mr. Riordan substantial backing from Mr. Bush's financial supporters.
Mr. Riordan, a 71-year-old lawyer and former corporate takeover specialist, is plainly tempted. He plans to begin an exploratory campaign committee this month and will spend most of the next few weeks touring California to "get the pulse of the state" and get "some idea of whether I could do the job of governor well enough to undertake it."
With his usual relaxed approach to politics, Mr. Riordan concedes he's been "very flattered with the attitude of the White House."
"They were very vocal in wanting me to run, and I'll look at it long and hard," he said.
But he has reason to be less swayed by offers of financial aid from Bush supporters than many other candidates might be: He's not at all needy. With personal wealth said to approach $1 billion, he paid for his two mayoral runs entirely from his own pocket. For the past eight years, he has accepted just $1 per year in salary from the city. If he runs for governor, he would likely pay most expense bills from his own wallet.
In his last interview before leaving the mayor's office, he slipped and referred to his upcoming tour of California as a series of visits to "strange areas." He also has referred to the city of Bakersfield as "boring."
Such slips may reinforce the antipathy the rest of California already feels toward Los Angeles, which many non-Angelenos feel exerts too much control over the rest of state.
No Los Angeles mayor or ex-mayor has ever been elected governor, although Tom Bradley came within a whisker in 1982. Other past mayors like Sam Yorty and Fletcher Bowden didn't even win their parties' nominations.
George Deukmejian, the Republican who used the slogan "A governor for ALL Californians," to defeat Mr. Bradley has signed on as chairman of Mr. Jones' campaign.
"I just can't understand how responsible Republicans would even be thinking about supporting someone like that," he said of Mr. Riordan.
Mr. Deukmejian said he has "serious doubts" about whether Mr. Bush actually has encouraged Mr. Riordan to run. "If he has, I think he's doing it on the basis of some very dumb advice he's getting from political people on his staff. It's very, very poor advice."
Republican consultant Dan Schnur said much will depend on the power situation in California this summer. "If there are more blackouts, Gray Davis could get hurt a lot," he said. If not, he predicted, Mr. Davis' poll numbers will rebound substantially.
Democrats, meanwhile, said that if Mr. Riordan runs, they will not hesitate to attack him on his mayoral record. One point they might hit: Mr. Riordan promised in his 1993 campaign to add at least 2,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department. The increase has been far fewer than that, and the department has been mired in scandal for years.
Said Davis campaign manager Garry South, "Whether it's Riordan, Simon or Jones, we'll beat any of them. I don't really care who they put up."

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