This is an example of one problem gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan faces: A flier is slipped under delegates' doors at a Republican state convention equating Riordan with Gov. Gray Davis. It claims they have the same "objectives for California: Killing babies, taking your guns and destroying traditional marriage."
It arrives overnight with two other Riordan hit pieces and an invitation by "the Bill Simon volunteer organization" to a rally welcoming Simon to the convention. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the fliers all are printed from the same paper stock with similar typefaces.
Republican Riordan and Democrat Davis both support allowing women to make their own decisions about abortion. They also favor moderate gun controls and gay rights. That makes them too liberal for many Republicans, especially the ideological zealots who give up their weekends to attend a party convention.
A recent statewide Times Poll found an almost even split among Republican voters over whether abortion should remain legal or be made illegal. The survey also showed the GOP dilemma: Among all registered voters, legal abortion is favored by nearly 2 to 1.
The hard fact is that no top-of-the-ticket candidate who opposes abortion rights has won a California general election since 1988. And in that span, Republicans have slipped--state GOP chairman Shawn Steel acknowledged to reporters--to "the verge of irrelevance."
Steel contends the party is turning around, but Democrats still firmly control the levers of state government and the congressional delegation.
Riordan's two underdog but scrappy rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination-- superrich businessman Simon and Secretary of State Bill Jones--both oppose abortion rights. Recent history suggests these conservatives cannot beat Davis in November, not only because of their anti-abortion stands, but because they oppose gun controls and are to the right of the electorate on environmental protection.
So Davis has been smacking Riordan--the only potential opponent he fears--from the other end, effectively challenging his "pro-choice" credentials. In TV ads, Davis notes that Riordan has donated thousands to anti-abortion causes and, before he was L.A. mayor, once called abortion "murder."
The GOP front-runner was slow to react after all this boiled over two weeks ago. Finally, Saturday in a candidates' debate, he tried to explain: "I very strongly dislike abortion. But I just as strongly respect the right of a woman to make a choice with respect to her own body." He "regretted" calling abortion murder.
Delegates loudly booed when a reporter asked about abortion because the GOP really doesn't want to discuss this losing subject. The problem is, many Republican activists do talk about it and act accordingly. In fact, Simon's main goal in a televised debate three weeks ago was to inform Republican viewers he's "pro-life," an advisor says.
Moreover, this is not a topic the GOP can just ignore--as long as its candidates oppose abortion rights--because Democrats have learned they can pounce on their opponents' "pro-life" stands to portray them as extremists.
Simon declared during the debate--as he does daily--that "this primary is about the heart and soul of the Republican Party."
Indeed it is. But it's not only about that, unfortunately for Riordan. It's not quite that simple--just moving the party from the right toward the center to make it more voter-friendly.
It's also about grudges and resentment--about Riordan having raised roughly $1 million for Democratic causes over the years, half of it for the late Tom Bradley, who twice ran against former GOP Gov. George Deukmejian.
An emotional Deukmejian told reporters Saturday that he doesn't think Riordan is "trustworthy" and "I don't respect him." Therefore, Deukmejian said he could not vote for Riordan even over Davis. Three former state party chairmen also declared they couldn't vote for Riordan in November.
Riordan's explanations of his bipartisanship have been weak: Bradley was a "friend," L.A. is a Democratic city and he had to "get along." In a partisan primary, Riordan still needs to persuade voters he's a real Republican.
On the other hand, notes Assemblyman Rod Pacheco (R-Riverside), an early Riordan supporter: "In one sense, you need the party. But in another sense, if your party's brand name is not selling anymore, then running against the party can be very effective."
The GOP has been out there so far on the right it may need a dramatic shift leftward to get back into a winning position in California. The party's "heart and soul" definitely could use a new beat and a reawakened spirit.
"Baby killing" verbiage only inspires Democratic victories.