- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

Who says it's the "Left Coast?" Who says California voters are so "out of it" they can't do anything "right?" This week, Californians went to the polls and delivered a double whammy. In a six-way Democrat primary for the newly drawn 18th Congressional district, they had the good sense to send the seven-term philanderer, Gary "Chandra was just a friend" Condit back to the private sector. And statewide, Republican activists ignored the national Republican establishment and White House political operatives and picked their own gubernatorial candidate choosing Bill Simon over former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan by a whopping 18 points.
The outcome of the Simon-Riordan match up should serve as a less-than-polite reminder to the Republican Party's national leadership that Tip O'Neill was right: "All politics is local." For the vaunted White House political operation, last Tuesday's tally ought to be taken as a primer in Politics 101.
Last fall, and earlier this winter in the midst of several fund-raising forays for the GOP, I was asked to venture out to the nation's most populous state to help raise money for this year's gubernatorial and congressional races. I was dumbfounded to be told repeatedly that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan had the quiet but unequivocal backing of "the White House" and that "that's where the money is going," because "a conservative like Bill Simon is unelectable statewide in California."
I checked with a friend, a respected conservative member of the California congressional delegation, and was dismayed to hear that the White House political team and Republican National Committee had put the arm on nearly every elected California Republican to get behind the pro-abortion, gun-grabbing Mr. Riordan. Furthermore, George Shultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, had declared support for the liberal former Los Angeles mayor. When I countered that many of President Reagan's closest political confidants, including Bill Buckley, Milton Friedman, John Herrington, Jack Kemp, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick had endorsed Bill Simon, I was informed that it had been "decided" that a liberal would stand the best chance running against Gov. Gray Davis in the state where Democrats have rolled up successive statewide victories since Pete Wilson's re-election in 1994. I asked, half in jest, "How can you tell the difference between Riordan and Davis?" I was told, "by the way they spell their names."
When I protested that I was doing my bit for the party by raising money in Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana and Colorado, it was suggested that "California is the big enchilada." I then pointed out that the Enchilada Republican Party hadn't fared particularly well in the past when Republicans nominated ultra-liberals like Tom Campbell and Mike Huffington. The reply: "Apparently you don't understand this is what the White House wants. They recruited Riordan to run." End of discussion.
If things had just gone the way the nice folks at the RNC and the White House political office intended, that would have been the end of the line for Bill Simon. A month before the primary, Mr. Riordan was ahead in the polls by double digits. The media had written off the Simon campaign. And Gov. Gray Davis took the extraordinary step of buying television commercials denouncing Mr. Riordan. But last Tuesday, the Potomac's political aristocracy, the press and the pollsters all turned out to be wrong. In the end, Gray Davis may be proven wrong as well.
Since Tuesday, the so-called mainstream media have tried to explain the Riordan defeat on Mr. Davis' "negative" ads. But on Tuesday, California Republicans may have had other things on their minds. They likely remembered candidate Riordan suggesting at the Republican Convention last month that the reason he wasn't being supported by former Gov. George Dukmejian was because the well-respected former state chief executive was getting senile. Or they may have remembered that Mr. Riordan's wife, Nancy Daly, donated to Al Gore and Hillary Clinton in the 2000 election and contributed to Emily's List; or that Mr. Riordan himself contributed more than $12,000 in the last two years to Gray Davis. It would have been interesting to see Mr. Riordan explain that little donation during a candidates debate.
As for Mr. Davis,he mayhave committed the consummate act of political arrogance. When he decided that he would rather face Mr. Simon instead of Mr. Riordan, Mr. Davis apparently believed his fear-mongering friends in the global-warming chorus would be able to frighten Californians into re-electing
him over the less well-known conservative Mr. Simon in November. Gray Davis and the faint of heart in the Republican hierarchy in Washington would do well to remember their political history.
Back in 1966, in the midst of a fierce GOP primary battle, Democrat incumbent Pat Brown cheered the nomination of a relatively unknown but charismatic movie star over another popular big city mayor, San Francisco's George Christopher. Mr. Brown was convinced that the inexperienced former president of the Screen Actor's Guild was too conservative for the California voters. Like Gov. Gray Davis today, Gov. Pat Brown got the candidate he wished for then. Pat Brown misread the people and underestimated Ronald Reagan. The Gipper trounced him. Look out, Mr. Davis.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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