- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

The fate of Republican Bill Simon's troubled campaign for governor of California and President Bush's hopes for the state in 2004 could be decided as early as next week, when the White House will see a new private poll, The Washington Times has learned.
Mr. Simon's campaign, stunned last week when a Los Angeles jury found his firm guilty of defrauding a former business partner, has authorized a comprehensive survey of California voters.
The Republican National Committee is paying for the poll.
"The president will have access to the poll by the first of next week and will know whether Simon's candidacy is still viable," confided a source close to the White House and the Simon campaign. "If not, I expect Bush to walk after Labor Day."
The source said if the president does decide to walk away from the Simon campaign, it will be done quietly, with no announcement. He simply would not personally attempt to raise more money for Mr. Simon after an already planned event on Aug. 24.
Some California Republicans have been privately urging Mr. Bush to quietly "pull the plug" on Mr. Simon, who formed an investment firm in 1988 with his brother and his father, former Nixon Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.
"Opinion is split among [Republican] strategists in the state," said nonpartisan consultant Allan Hoffenblum. "But most of the ones I talk to think the president should come out here to raise money for Bill this month."
"The White House has every reason to be livid," Mr. Hoffenblum said. "The White House was blindsided by the fraud case and the verdict, but it's much too early to throw in the towel."
But another California Republican strategist who asked not to be identified said he is urging Mr. Bush to cut his ties with Mr. Simon as soon as possible. "This is one time when the president has to put aside the famous Bush loyalty and do what is best for himself," the Republican said.
"[White House political strategist Karl] Rove has two choices," the California strategist said. "He can have Bush go, but the president, who just gave a speech advocating zero tolerance for corporate fraud, will be standing next to a candidate who just lost a corporate fraud suit. Or he can recommend Bush pull out, angering conservatives who still back Simon and signaling once again that national Republicans are writing off California."
Some California Republicans privately agree with Garry South, chief strategist for Mr. Simon's opponent, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
"If the president doesn't come out here, it's the end of Bill Simon," Mr. South said. "And if he comes out here and tries to do the fund-raising part out of public sight and then do the public part of his California visit with Simon nowhere in sight, that is close to being the kiss of death for Bill Simon."
Mr. South added, "There is no good way for the White House to resolve this."
But Mr. Hoffenblum said, "No one will remember in 2004 that Bush stood next to a guy named Simon. And if Bush has to worry about that, it'll show he's in more trouble than we want or expect to see him in."
The president has decided to keep his commitment to appear at three Simon fund-raising events in the state on Aug. 23 and 24, regardless of the findings of the RNC poll, The Washington Times has learned.
Two of the events are in private homes of Republican donors, and one will be in a hotel. The events are expected to raise $3 million, campaign officials said.
A White House spokesman said yesterday that all three events will be closed to the press.
Whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Simon will be seen together in public, however, has not been decided.
"It's up to the White House, and they haven't told us their plans," said Mark Miner, the campaign communications director for Mr. Simon.
One reason for keeping the commitment is that invitations had already gone out and money was collected before the fraud verdict against Mr. Simon.
Another reason is that the president and Mr. Rove still believe that Mr. Simon, despite weeks of bad publicity, can defeat Mr. Davis, the highly unpopular Democrat incumbent.
Although the independent Field Poll taken before last week's jury verdict showed Mr. Davis to be highly unpopular with voters, the poll also suggested that Mr. Davis' campaign ads were driving up Mr. Simon's own negative rating with voters.
The Davis ad questions Mr. Simon's competence and ethics as a businessman.
The poll, in which Mr. Davis led Mr. Simon by seven percentage points, showed that 39 percent of voters viewed Mr. Simon unfavorably up from the 24 percent negative view in the Field Poll in late February, before Mr. Simon's surprising win over two better-known Republicans in his party's March primary.
On Wednesday, Vice President Richard B. Cheney fulfilled an earlier commitment to raise money for Mr. Simon as part of a one-day swing through the state, but he did not appear with the candidate in public, nor did he volunteer a word of support for him.
The White House was embarrassed by the $78 million jury verdict and award, as well as angry that the Simon campaign had not told the White House about the pending fraud trial or the fact that Mr. Simon had given a deposition in the case in May.

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