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1st Simon TV Ad Is in Spanish; It Tackles Davis on Education

Politics: GOP candidate says he's courting Latino vote. But limited nature of the spot shows his relative lack of funds.

June 19, 2002|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr. launched his television advertising campaign against Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday with a Spanish-language spot that challenges the incumbent's record on education.

Given the vast scale of TV advertising required to reach most California voters, Simon's opening spot for the general election race is extremely limited. It will air statewide, but only on Univision, Telemundo and Galavision stations, and Simon campaign officials would not say how much they planned to spend airing the ad.

By contrast, the Democratic incumbent has been running an extensive series of spots in English for more than two weeks on major broadcast stations in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. Two of them promote the governor, but another hammers Simon for his role in managing a savings and loan that failed.

Simon has not put up any ads to respond to Davis' attack. The lack of a response from Simon, who is relatively unknown among California voters, has stirred anxiety among some fellow Republicans.

But on Tuesday, the GOP nominee released an ad that seeks to keep the campaign's focus on Davis, and to do so with an issue that the Simon campaign views as crucial for appealing to swing voters: education. The commercial tells viewers in Spanish that Davis has broken his promise to improve California schools.

"Our children lose with Gray Davis," the narrator says.

The ad concludes with Simon saying in Spanish: "The future of California depends on our children--yours and mine."

At a news conference in Santa Monica, Simon said he was introducing himself to voters in Spanish "to highlight the priority that I'm placing on the Latino community."

"I know my ideas will resonate among them ... because I will not take the Latino community for granted as Gray Davis has done these last four years," he said.

Among the ideas he listed as especially beneficial to Latino business owners were a cut in the state's capital gains tax, a rollback of state regulations and reform of the workers' compensation system.

In the Republican primary, Simon did not advertise in Spanish, and he held few events aimed directly at Latinos.

Davis strategist Garry South said Simon and other Republicans are "frantic about trying to connect" with Latino voters, but predicted that the governor would still win that voting bloc by an overwhelming margin. South also dismissed the criticism of Davis on education as an effort to divert attention from Simon's opposition to abortion rights and gun control.

"He claims that Gov. Davis is responsible for everything from asthma to zits," South said.

California Latinos have leaned strongly toward Democrats in recent elections. In the 1998 race for governor, Davis won 71% of their vote, leaving his GOP rival Dan Lungren with 23%, according to the Times Poll. In the 2000 presidential election, Latinos in California favored Democrat Al Gore over Republican George W. Bush by 75% to 23%, the poll found.

But Republicans are counting on increased support among Latinos to reverse the party's string of losses in statewide elections over the last six years.

Bill Carrick, a Democratic campaign strategist not involved in the governor's race, said it was smart for Simon to advertise on Spanish-language television.

But Carrick added: "What I don't understand--it's a mystery to me--is why he doesn't do something equally smart, which is to go on English-language television and challenge what Gray Davis is saying about him."

"Davis can put Simon in a hole here that's very hard to dig out of," Carrick said.

Part of Simon's problem is that he is millions behind Davis in fund-raising. With nearly five months until the Nov. 5 election, Simon cannot sustain a major television ad campaign if he starts now.

Among the risks of buying television time now: He could wind up with little money in his war chest at the end of June, when the campaign must prepare a report showing how much cash it has. That number is eyed with great interest in donor circles; too small a total and potential donors can lose confidence in a campaign.

"They're just not in a position where they can burn a lot of money on ads," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Though Simon strategist Sal Russo declined to say how much money the campaign was spending on the Spanish-language ad, the cost would be a small fraction of the several million dollars that the Davis campaign says it is spending this month on TV spots.

Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, said Simon's foray into Spanish-language media could turn out to be a "brilliant strategy" if the governor's saving and loan spot fails to convince voters that Simon is unqualified to run the state.

"It would basically mean the Simon campaign has enough discipline not to get drawn into a war of attrition when they don't have the resources to match Davis," Cain said.

But the Simon team is still taking a risk that the S&L ad will erode support for the Republican nominee, he said.

"You don't like to leave charges unanswered," he said. "But if nobody's paying attention, or for whatever reason it's not registering with voters, then there's no reason to respond."

The Simon ad will also air on the Radio Unica and Nueva Vida radio networks.

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