- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Bill Simon faces lingering bitterness among fellow Republicans in his battle to defeat three other California political heavyweights in the Oct. 7 recall election for governor.

“Unfortunately, if Bill Simon’s first campaign hadn’t been inept, he would be governor today, instead of having to compete with three other Mack trucks on a two-lane highway,” a senior Republican lawmaker and Simon friend said privately.

Less than a year ago, Mr. Simon lost by five percentage points to a highly unpopular incumbent Democrat, Gov. Gray Davis, who faces recall by voters.

The “Mack trucks” are the other top contenders: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a popular Democrat; and Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor; and state Sen. Tom McClintock, admired by many of the state’s most fiscally conservative voters.

Mr. Bustamante has a three-point lead over Mr. Schwarzenegger in the latest Field Poll, but Mr. Schwarzenegger is far and away the front-runner in other polls. Next, but much further behind, is Mr. McClintock, who has a one-point lead over Mr. Simon in the Field Poll.

Republican strategists unaffiliated with any of the candidates said that if Mr. Simon hopes to squeeze past these three “trucks,” he will need more than his newly assembled campaign team.

“For Simon to succeed, two things have to happen,” said California political consultant Allen Hoffenblum, a centrist Republican. “Schwarzenegger will have to stumble badly and Simon will have to out-hustle McClintock, who actually got more votes running for controller than Simon got running for governor” in November.

Assuming the Field Poll is an aberration and that Mr. Bustamante is still well behind, conservative Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg also said Mr. Schwarzenegger “must stumble for Simon to win.”

He agreed, too, that Mr. Simon has to worry about Mr. McClintock, who “while underfunded, makes a dynamite impression on crowds and even on national talk shows.”

Interviews with other Republicans close to Mr. Simon, including chief strategist Wayne Johnson, indicate several other goals are part of the Simon strategy.

One is to establish Mr. Simon as the “consensus candidate” among the party’s conservative activists. A second is to show that he knows exactly what he would do once he steps into the governor’s office. A third Simon goal is to unmask Mr. Schwarzenegger and Mr. Bustamante as, according to Mr. Johnson, “exponents of the most fashionable liberal policies of the day.”

However, Mr. Johnson, whose partner Tim Clark is running the day-to-day Simon campaign operations, said his trump card is that his consulting firm knows how to do the election-campaign basics better than some flashier Republican firms and candidates.

“This is a campaign about voter ID and turnout,” Mr. Johnson said. “We have a record of winning tough seats in Democratic districts. We know how to do it, and the country clubbers in the Republican Party don’t.”

There’s no dispute that Mr. Simon is competing for the same constituency as Mr. McClintock, whom Mr. Hoffenblum describes as a “hard-core fiscal conservative [who] probably understands the budget process better than anyone else on the ballot, including the incumbent governor.”

Where Mr. Simon appears to have an edge is in the likability factor.

“People don’t like McClintock,” said Mr. Hoffenblum, adding that the young lawmaker “is so bullheaded and outspoken, whereas Bill Simon comes across as very charming.”

But Mr. Simon may be running into another problem. “Simon is having trouble finding his niche,” Mr. Steinberg said. “He mentions abortion and gay issues to cement the base, yet the fiscal issues are what people care about.”

On fiscal issues, Mr. Schwarzenegger already stumbled when his chief economic policy adviser, billionaire Warren Buffett, suggested that maybe the 1978 limit on property taxes, known as Proposition 13, be rescinded. He suggested that California property owners don’t pay enough in taxes, which are needed to meet the state’s huge budget deficit.

Mr. Simon was quick to jump on that misstep, saying Mr. Schwarzenegger had better start telling voters what his policy views are, instead of letting advisers like Mr. Buffett do the talking.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman told reporters later Friday that his boss remains the strong supporter of Proposition 13 that he always has been — regardless of what Mr. Buffett implied.

But the damage may have been done to Mr. Schwarzenegger, and Mr. Simon showed he could leap on a chance to score points with his constituencies.

Nonetheless, Mr. Steinberg said Mr. Simon will “need to spend early money on advertising so creative and novel that it impresses the electorate.”

“He would also need to stand out in a series of debates, so that it becomes a Schwarzenegger-Simon race, on the Republican side.”

Mr. Johnson, the Simon strategist, said Mr. Steinberg has that right.

“Over the next three or four weeks, it will become obvious who the major candidates are,” Mr. Johnson said. “I don’t believe the first obstacle to our success is McClintock. The guy you worry about is the guy in first place.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide