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New TV Ads Heat Up Governor's Race

Campaign: Davis and Simon unleash attacks, which both camps accuse of being misleading. One analyst predicts a 'long, ugly summer.'

June 21, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The two men vying for the governor's office stepped up their attacks on one another Thursday, with Republican Bill Simon Jr. launching a television broadside against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the governor responding with his second commercial questioning his rival's management skills.

The back-and-forth moved the governor's race into what analysts say will be a summer of sharp-edged competition over the airwaves between Davis, whose popularity has dropped in recent years, and the little-known Simon, a businessman making his first bid for political office.

"In the case of Davis, he needs to maintain momentum, and in the case of Simon, he needs to create momentum," said Larry N. Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State.

"The result is that you will see this ... all the way until election day."

Added GOP consultant Mike Madrid: "It's going to be long, hot, ugly summer."

The governor set the tone last week when he began airing a television commercial criticizing Simon's service as a board member of a failed savings and loan.

On Thursday, Simon responded with two 30-second ads that accuse Davis of ignoring the state's budget deficit and its troubled schools to make "false personal attacks."

"Gray Davis seems more concerned with his own political future than our state's future," said Simon in one of the ads, speaking in a wood-paneled library.

The commercials, which the campaign said are running statewide, also accuse the governor of refusing to debate Simon.

The Davis campaign said that it has heard nothing from the Simon campaign about debates.

"The governor will debate him anywhere, anytime," campaign spokesman Roger Salazar said. "If I were Bill Simon, I would be a little bit leery of that, because before you want to debate, you probably want to have some issues you want to talk about."

In addition to the two ads that began airing Thursday, Simon will begin airing a third ad on Monday that plays off the governor's reputation as a prolific fund-raiser.

The commercial accuses the governor of spending "up to 12 hours a day fund-raising" and ignoring state business. In it, an alarm clock rings as a narrator intones, "Tell Gray Davis his time is up."

Salazar called the ad "untrue," and said that Davis leaves fund-raising up to professionals on his campaign team.

Davis began running a second commercial Thursday that questions Simon's business dealings. The ad cites financial losses and investigations into four companies Simon has been involved with. "If he can't run a business, how can he run the fifth-largest economy in the world?" a narrator asks.

Aides to Simon called the ad misleading, saying that Simon is not responsible for the management of companies in which he was merely an investor.

"This ad is a rather sad and pathetic attempt by Gray Davis to deflect attention from his failed leadership and gross mismanagement of the state," Simon said in a statement released Thursday evening.

The Republican candidate's new television commercials followed public expressions of concern from some GOP activists that Simon's campaign was being damaged by his refusal to respond to Davis' charges over the air. Earlier this week, Simon began airing an ad on Spanish-language television, but it focused on education instead of Davis' charges.

Some speculated that the rookie candidate was reluctant to spend money on expensive television advertising with more than five months to go before the November election.

Davis, who has raised more than $35 million, can more easily absorb the cost.

Simon strategist Sal Russo said the campaign's fund-raising has exceeded his expectations and that the campaign has "several million dollars" on hand.

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