- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2003

LOS ANGELES — Republican Bill Simon Jr. dropped out of California’s gubernatorial recall race yesterday, boosting the position of the party’s front-runner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I strongly believe that the desire of Californians must come before the aspirations of any single candidate,” Mr. Simon said in a statement released by his campaign. “There are too many Republicans in this race, and the people of this state simply cannot risk a continuation of the Gray Davis legacy.”

Recent statewide polls have shown Mr. Schwarzenegger far ahead of other Republicans but still running neck and neck with the only high-profile Democrat on the list of replacement candidates, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

However, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that half of likely voters support throwing Mr. Davis out of office, while 45 percent are opposed. Four percent are undecided. Earlier surveys suggested that the recall was supported by more than half of voters.

Leaders and donors in both parties, worried about splitting the vote Oct. 7 if Mr. Davis is recalled, have started lining up behind the two front-runners, with Republicans largely supporting Mr. Schwarzenegger and Democrats favoring a “no on recall, yes on Bustamante” strategy as a hedge against losing the governor’s office.

Republican leaders have also stepped up pressure on Republican candidates trailing Mr. Schwarzenegger in the polls.

“I believe that the goal should be rallying around Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he’s a natural leader who has as his goal getting California’s economic engine moving again,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, after Mr. Simon made his statement. Mr. Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, is a Schwarzenegger adviser.

The Lincoln Club of Orange County, which includes some of the state’s top Republican donors, endorsed Mr. Schwarzenegger on Friday and called on the other Republican candidates to abandon the race.

Mr. Simon did not endorse another candidate but might do so later, campaign spokesman K.B. Forbes said. Mr. Forbes denied that Mr. Simon was pressured by the party to drop his campaign.

“There was absolutely no pressure, no phone calls. This was a decision made by Bill Simon based on rational conclusions,” Mr. Forbes said.

Mr. Simon had been the Republican candidate for governor in 2002, when Mr. Davis won re-election. The Los Angeles businessman ran a stumbling campaign and lost to Mr. Davis by 5 percentage points in November.

Mr. Simon’s departure leaves three leading Republicans among the 135 candidates on the ballot still vying to replace Mr. Davis: Mr. Schwarzenegger, former baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and state Sen. Tom McClintock.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, who largely funded the recall effort, stepped aside earlier this month.

In a statement yesterday, Mr. Schwarzenegger said he hopes Mr. Simon’s decision unifies the party.

“Bill has strong convictions and a passion for ideas that will benefit California and its people. He will continue to be a force for change,” the statement said. “I hope Bill’s personal sacrifice will serve to unify Republicans and other Californians who are eager to join the movement to give California back its future.”

McClintock campaign spokesman Joe Giardiello repeated yesterday that Mr. McClintock would stay in the race and took a fresh shot at Mr. Schwarzenegger, saying the recall is a “race between Gray Davis’ right-hand man, an untested candidate who may or may not raise taxes and Mr. McClintock, who has been fighting for fiscal reforms that we need for 20 years.”

Ueberroth consultant Dan Schnur said Mr. Ueberroth was also staying in and was not feeling pressure to get out. Mr. Ueberroth, chief organizer of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, is seeking to present himself as an independent and tested problem-solver.

A Davis spokesman dismissed Mr. Simon’s departure as “irrelevant.”

“We’re still focused on defeating question one on the ballot,” said Gabriel Sanchez, spokesman for Mr. Davis’ campaign committee. “Question two has become a sideshow with one less clown.”

The first question on the ballot asks whether the governor should be recalled. The second asks which person among the list of candidates should replace him. Mr. Simon’s name will still appear on that list, even though he won’t be campaigning, because it is too late to remove it.

Mr. Davis, whose popularity has plunged amid California’s $38 billion budget deficit, its energy crisis and its slumping economy, has branded the Republican-led drive to oust him a “hostile takeover by the right.”

Mr. Simon, the son of former U.S. Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, is a social conservative who was a political unknown before his surprise win in the Republican primary last year.

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