- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

SANTA ANA, Calif. President Bush yesterday began a marathon series of fund-raisers for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon's troubled campaign, as Bush aide Karl Rove insisted California could return to the Reagan era of strong support for Republicans.
By the end of today, Mr. Bush will have raised $2.6 million for Mr. Simon, boosting the conservative's campaign coffers to roughly $8 million. But incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has four times that much money and is already using it to attack his Republican challenger.
Mr. Davis has made much of a July 31 civil fraud ruling against Mr. Simon's family investment firm. Although Mr. Simon insists the $78 million judgment will be overturned, it has created some political awkwardness for Mr. Bush, who has been railing against corporate wrongdoing in recent months.
The president omitted the topic of corporate fraud from his speeches yesterday for the first time in several days. He shook hands with Mr. Simon on an airport runway and later praised him for exhibiting the kind of "common-sense thinking" that makes him "somebody who can lead this state."
"I'm honored to be back to work on behalf of the next governor of the state of California, Governor Bill Simon," the president said at a Republican Party lunch in Stockton, California. "People are beginning to take notice here in California that something different's happening, a little different attitude when it comes to politics and the governor's office."
Senior White House political adviser Karl Rove shrugged off Mr. Simon's legal troubles and insisted the president stands by the embattled Republican.
"Well, it's a civil case and it's before a judge, and Simon believes very strongly that he's going to be vindicated," Mr. Rove told reporters aboard Air Force One. "We accept that, and this is an important state and a big, important race."
Indeed, even if Mr. Simon loses the election, Mr. Bush plans to continue cultivating the state he lost to former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 campaign. Republicans believe the president has a much better chance of winning California in 2004 because his prosecution of the war against terrorism has won over many swing voters and significant numbers of Democrats.
"I know one thing that the Simon campaign emphasizes a lot is regrowing, re-energizing the grass-roots volunteer base of this party," Mr. Rove said. "It was very important to us in the presidential campaign in 2000. We made a very concerted effort here."
The Republican Party has no intention of ceding the nation's largest electoral prize to the Democrats. Mr. Rove said California's hostility to Republicans in recent years does not mean the pendulum will not swing back to conservatives.
"In 1962, the Republicans lost the governor's race badly," he recalled. "They lost the state horrifically, by the biggest margin that any major party candidate has lost California.
"They lost it in 1964," he said. "And in 1966, because they had been patiently trying to rebuild because of these defeats, you know, a sunny, optimistic actor named Ronald Reagan swept into office and Republicans gained a significant number of statewide offices over the next 20 years."
Mr. Rove added: "Because of the progressive reforms that were enacted here in the 1910s and '20s, this is a state that has a tendency to be very apolitical and to swing widely from certain election cycles to other election cycles. So it's a state that, if you ignore, you get what you play for nothing. But if you play in the state, all kinds of things are possible."
Mr. Bush will return to his ranch in Crawford tonight to resume what he calls "my so-called vacation." Although the president has been criticized for his habit of spending August at his 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush has recently been spending more time on the road than at his beloved Prairie Chapel Ranch.

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