- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

LOS ANGELES California's gubernatorial race was a dead heat early this morning, with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis leading Republican challenger Bill Simon by fewer than 5,000 votes.

Democrats, however, appeared headed toward a near sweep of competitive state and federal races.

With 27 percent of precincts reporting by 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time, Mr. Davis led Mr. Simon 46 percent to 45 percent. Opinion polls in the closing days of the race had showed Mr. Davis holding a lead of at least seven percentage points.

Despite the close gubernatorial race, Democrats appeared headed for wins for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general. The only glimmer of hope for the Republicans was for state controller, where Republican Tom McClintock led Democrat Steve Westly 47.2 percent to 45.1 percent.

Mr. Davis' re-election would mark a major comeback for the first-term governor. Only a year ago, he was widely seen as headed for a sound defeat his approval ratings were consistently well below 50 percent and he was widely seen as boring, overly political and vacillating as governor. Voters had also widely blamed him for mishandling a major energy crisis in 2001, which saw electricity prices soar and rolling blackouts sweeping the state.

Although his approval ratings have remained low, Mr. Davis and his chief political consultant, Gary South, managed to skillfully neutralize the Republican opposition. Mr. Davis spent a reported $10 million on advertisements during the Republican primary campaign to paint former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan as too conservative. Although Mr. Riordan lost to political newcomer Mr. Simon, Mr. Davis and many Democrats considered the former mayor a more formidable potential opponent.

Mr. Davis and Mr. South then turned on Mr. Simon, painting him as a tool of religious conservatives and attacking him with a wave of tough ads. As a result, Mr. Simon was on the defensive for most of the campaign, a problem that was compounded by his numerous missteps and rookie blunders on the stump.

Mr. Davis and his team "have been able to run the gubernatorial campaigns of both of their opponents," said former Republican consultant Allen Hoffenblum, now publisher of the nonpartisan political journal Target Report. "They set the agenda, they dictated what people were talking about everything the voters knew about Bill Simon is what Gray Davis told them."

There were relatively few competitive congressional races in California, and Republicans were disappointed in most of those as well. In the San Joaquin Valley, Democratic state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza appeared headed for an easy win over Republican state Sen. Dick Monteith to fill the seat left vacant by the primary defeat of Democratic Rep. Gary A. Condit. In Santa Barbara, Democratic Rep. Lois Capps appeared to have beaten back a strong challenge by Republican businesswoman Beth Rogers, who had hoped to use her fluent command of Spanish to make inroads among Hispanic voters.

The only bright spot for Republicans was in a newly created district in the San Joaquin Valley, where Republican Devin Nunes appeared headed for a strong victory over Democrat David LaPere.

In other widely watched California races:

•The two-part movement to break up the huge city of Los Angeles appeared headed for defeat, although definitive numbers were not available by press time. The effort to have Hollywood secede from the city of Los Angeles appeared headed for a sound defeat while an effort to break off the San Fernando Valley appeared headed for a narrow defeat, according to recent polling and election watchers.

•A ballot initiative to create after-school programs at public schools, a measure backed by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, appeared headed for easy passage. The measure is widely seen as Mr. Schwarzenegger's debut as a politician and an early test for his plan to run for governor in 2006.

•Voters in San Francisco were to decide whether to allow the city to get into the business of growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes, as allowed by the state's 1996 medical-marijuana initiative. The non-binding ballot question was a reaction to a series of recent federal raids on medical-marijuana buyers' clubs and cooperatives. The raids have outraged state and local officials, who say the clubs and cooperatives were operating peacefully and within the bounds of the 1996 state law. Early results were not yet available by press time.

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