- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, under pressure from party leaders and the White House to streamline his campaign team, has added a second strategist, a second media consultant and a new campaign manager.

With Mr. Simon badly trailing Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in fund raising, the White House and the Republican National Committee have spent several months working behind the scenes to trim the California candidate's campaign organization.

Still, President Bush's political team in Washington, after initial doubts, has growing confidence that Mr. Simon can unseat the unpopular Democratic incumbent on Nov. 5, said Republicans close to both the White House and the Simon campaign.

But the Davis camp is counting on its deep pockets to defeat the Republican challenger.

"We have a fund-raising plan through Election Day," chief Davis strategist Garry South said in an interview. "Simon would have to raise $10 million a month just to catch up."

Despite his fund-raising disadvantage, Mr. Simon plans further expansions to his paid staff of 67, which is already more than twice the size of Mr. Davis' staff.

"We are going to continue adding people for the rest of the campaign," Mr. Simon said in an interview.

The Simon campaign's new leader is Sal Russo, the chief strategist who helped Mr. Simon win the Republican nomination over former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who was the White House's choice to face Mr. Davis.

Mr. Russo has brought his partner and veteran Republican campaign manager Ed Rollins onto the Simon team, along with Republican media guru Larry McCarthy.

The move comes after months of improving poll numbers for Mr. Simon.

"Gray Davis has spent almost as much money attacking me as he did attacking Richard Riordan and we're up in the polls versus where we started," Mr. Simon said.

The latest California Field Poll has Mr. Davis at 41 percent and Mr. Simon at 34 percent a margin half the size of Mr. Davis' 14-percentage-point advantage in the same poll in April. Other polls even show Mr. Simon narrowly leading Mr. Davis.

Democrats scoff at Republican contentions of Simon gains, but the latest Field Poll shows only 41 percent of all California voters approving of the job Mr. Davis is doing, with 54 percent of independent or "swing" voters disapproving.

Also, 51 percent of those polled said the state was "on the wrong track" usually a sign that voters are ready to fire the incumbent.

The Davis campaign doesn't hesitate to play the class-warfare card against Mr. Simon, whose father, the late William E. Simon, was a wealthy businessman who served as Treasury secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

"Simon was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple," Mr. South says. "He's playing with his father's money and is a classic example of a rich businessman who thinks he can start at the top in politics."

Mr. Simon says voters aren't heeding the Democrat's attacks.

"We're tracking this guy Davis like a hunter tracks his prey," Mr. Simon said. "We're polling to make sure Davis' ads aren't getting traction."

But the Democratic incumbent is outperforming Mr. Simon in fund raising 5-1. Mr. Davis has outspent the Republican 4-1 on TV ads and already has six times as much cash on hand.

Achieving "penetration" in California's expensive media markets requires a minimum of $1.5 million a week in advertising buys, campaign veterans say. With 15 weeks left before Election Day, that is far beyond what the Simon campaign can afford.

Personal fund-raising appearances by Mr. Bush and administration officials have accounted for most of the $11 million Mr. Simon has raised. His campaign has about $5 million of the amount left. Mr. Davis has raised $50 million and has about $30 million left, Mr. South said.

Mr. Russo has said he will stick to his strategy of not attempting to respond in kind to Mr. Davis' massive television advertising campaign during the dog days of summer. But other Republicans in the state are urging Mr. Simon to go on the attack more, define himself better and reduce the size of his campaign's paid staff.

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