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Simon Opts to Air First Ad on Radio

Politics: Gubernatorial hopeful's aides back the strategy as media savvy. Others see it as signaling a lack of resolve.

January 15, 2002|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon Jr. launched his advertising campaign Monday with a statewide radio spot that touts his record in business and philanthropy.

But the modest media buy served only to renew questions about how seriously Simon plans to compete in the March 5 primary.

The 60-second advertisement calls Simon the "conservative Republican for governor," an apparent swipe at both former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is running well to the left of Simon, and Secretary of State Bill Jones, the third major GOP candidate.

The spot also highlights Simon's ties to former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, noting that Simon served as an assistant U.S. attorney under Giuliani during the Reagan administration. (Giuliani plans to join Simon at a campaign stop Thursday in Los Angeles.)

But the advertisement was less noteworthy for its autobiographical content than its placement on radio--which has considerably less reach than television--and the fact that it began airing so late in the campaign of a candidate who is so little known.

Riordan, by far the best-known of the candidates, began advertising on television in most parts of the state last week. Jones, who lacks the personal millions that Riordan and Simon can both draw upon, hopes to begin TV advertising by the end of the month.

By waiting so long to run ads and starting on such a modest scale, Simon reinforced doubts in Republican ranks that he was serious about overtaking Riordan, a friend who moves in many of the same social circles.

"He's the new guy on the block, and he really needed to be first on the air," said Arnold Steinberg, a veteran GOP strategist who once worked for Riordan but is now neutral in the party primary.

"I have successfully used radio before television to warm up the electorate, but not this late," Steinberg said. "Radio is usually and properly a reinforcement or secondary medium to television."

However, Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Simon campaign, said that the radio spots were the most cost-effective way of introducing the candidate, and that Simon would soon follow up with more visible TV spots.

"Television is more effective at communicating feelings," Russo said. "Right now, we're communicating who Bill Simon is."

Although aides once spoke of a $60-million campaign budget, Simon has struggled to raise money for his first-time run for public office. He recently loaned his campaign nearly $1.7 million to try to stay competitive. Other than his own money, he had raised only $278,000 in the last three months of 2001.

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