- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

SANTA CLARA, Calif. President Bush's visit this week sent a message to his network of donors and supporters that it is time to unify behind William Simon, the pro-life conservative who is out to unseat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the fall.
"I think it will jump-start the financing," Tim Morgan, a Santa Cruz lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee, said at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon here. "Bush doesn't squander political capital, and now he's putting his prestige on the line for Simon."
California is serious business for the White House. Mr. Bush lost the state to Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election campaign by 1.2 million votes.
"The stakes are high for Bush, and it shows the White House has confidence in the Simon campaign's ability to pull it off," said Shawn Steel, the state party chairman. Mr. Davis is expected to have $50 million to spend on his re-election campaign. Until Mr. Bush's visit this week, Mr. Simon had raised less than $2 million.
Mr. Simon defeated Richard Riordan, a social liberal, in the March Republican gubernatorial primary. The White House had backed the pro-choice former mayor of Los Angeles in the belief that Mr. Riordan would have the best chance at unseating Mr. Davis. But the administration is fully behind Mr. Simon's campaign.
Republican officials have said that a victory by Mr. Simon would boost Mr. Bush's chances to win California in 2004.
"If Simon doesn't beat Davis, then it doesn't portend well for Bush in 2004 in this state," Mr. Morgan said. "If he does beat Davis, then it's a whole different ballgame."
Mr. Simon's surprise primary win split the California Republican Party, in which many of its major donors tend to be pro-choice and socially liberal. Until Mr. Bush's visit, they were reluctant to write checks for Mr. Simon.
Despite the liberal views of many of the state party's financial contributors, Mr. Simon has not backed away from his pro-life and anti-gun-control positions. Mr. Bush said this week that he was "proud" of Mr. Simon for not needing polls and focus groups to figure out where he stands on the issues.
The president drew laughter and applause when he used humor to rebut Mr. Davis' claim that Mr. Simon is unqualified because he has never held elective office and has been only a successful businessman. "Sounds to me like Gov. Davis is getting his advice from Ann Richards," Mr. Bush said, referring to the Texas Democratic governor whom he defeated in the 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
The White House also showed sensitivity to the party's unity problem by keeping pro-choice California fund-raiser Gerald Parsky, Mr. Bush's point man in the state, out of the public spotlight during the president's visit.
The local press has interpreted some of Mr. Parsky's recent remarks about conservative hard-liners in the party as being critical of Mr. Simon.
"Maybe Parsky should learn to shut up," San Francisco Republican Vice Chairman for Finance Mike DeNunzio said with a laugh when asked whether Mr. Parsky, a Riordan supporter in the primary, was as much of a problem for party unity as his critics have been claiming.
Mr. Parsky accompanied Mr. Bush and White House chief strategist Karl Rove on the president's visit, but kept such a low profile that even some state party officials were unaware of his presence and the local press had no opportunity to raise the "Parsky issue."
Mr. Bush used his popularity among rank-and-file Republicans to help bolster Mr. Simon's campaign war chest. He drew enough of them in appearances in Los Angeles on Monday night and in this Silicon Valley town at the foot of San Francisco Bay on Tuesday to raise about $4.5 million for Mr. Simon.
"As far as I can see, almost all the Riordan supporters are here," said former Reagan adviser and economist Martin Anderson.
There were other signs of unity.
"Look, I was a Riordan supporter, I admit it, but Bill Simon won and it's time for all of us to come over," said San Francisco Republican Committee Treasurer Howard Epstein.
But he also said it will take time for pro-choice Republican women in the state to make their peace with Mr. Riordan's defeat and support Mr. Simon's campaign.


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