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ELECTION 2002

Davis, Simon Make Final Bids

On the second day of his 'Fire Gray Davis' tour, Republican challenger accuses governor of misusing office.

November 04, 2002|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

Republican Bill Simon Jr. wrapped up the final weekend of the governor's race Sunday with harsh swipes at Democratic incumbent Gray Davis, using Sen. John McCain to assail the governor's pursuit of campaign money.

On the second day of his "Fire Gray Davis" tour of California, Simon barnstormed in San Diego, Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

With crowds of supporters shouting "Dump Davis," he blamed his rival for bad schools, the power crisis and the sputtering economy, among other things.

But above all, he accused Davis of misusing the governor's office in a relentless hunt for campaign contributions.

"Is there anybody here that doubts that Gray Davis' signature is for sale?" Simon called to 100 cheering supporters at an Olvera Street rally in downtown Los Angeles.

"No!" they shouted back.

"Is there anybody that doubts that Gray Davis sells public policy to the highest bidder?" he asked.

"No!" they responded.

The attacks were part of Simon's effort to frame the election Tuesday as a referendum on an unpopular governor. Neither of the television ads that Simon is running in the final days of the race says anything about his own political agenda; instead, they portray Davis as a dishonest, incompetent governor.

Picking up that theme at a Simon rally Sunday morning in San Diego was McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who has made campaign finance reform his signature issue.

"You need a governor who can lead this state out of the morass that it's in and restore respect to the office of governor," McCain said.

Talking to reporters after the rally, held near a veterans memorial museum in Balboa Park, McCain was more blunt about Davis.

"I just think the way he has conducted this fund-raising, the clear appearance of total impropriety, was a disgrace, and it's everything that I have campaigned against and fought against my entire time in public office," McCain said.

The governor has long denied trading state favors for campaign money, insisting that he makes decisions on merit.

Davis' spokesman, Roger Salazar, said McCain would be "better off sticking to the issues rather than slinging mud." He cited measures signed by Davis that have tightened donation disclosure requirements and will impose contribution limits after the election.

"No governor of California has done more to create transparency in California's campaign finance system than Gray Davis," Salazar said.

For Simon, McCain's presence in San Diego was aimed at more than just reinforcing attacks on Davis.

McCain is a renowned former prisoner of war who was captured as a Navy pilot in North Vietnam, and the large military population in the San Diego area has a strong influence on the region's politics.

McCain, whose 2000 presidential campaign attracted many independent voters, also appeals to constituencies that are crucial for Republicans who seek statewide office in California.

"He's enormously popular among the very groups of voters we are approaching: independents, undecideds and folks in the middle," said state Republican Chairman Shawn Steel, who waved a Gray Davis "For Sale" sign at Simon's rallies.

Still, McCain's presence underscored the absence of Simon's other most prominent supporters, President Bush and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, in the final days of the campaign.

At a Simon campaign stop last month in Burbank, Giuliani vowed to return to California once more to stump for Simon.

But Giuliani has not come back, and this week he planned to campaign for candidates in Maryland and Massachusetts.

Bush has skipped California as he has raced from state to state to promote candidates in contests that the White House views as more competitive.

McCain acknowledged that Simon, consistently behind Davis in the polls, remained an underdog. "We all know it's going to be a tough, uphill battle," McCain said.

Simon put a more optimistic spin on the state of the race, even as he ripped into Davis.

"This is going to be a close election," Simon told supporters at Olvera Street, a traditional political backdrop.

"Despite all the brave talk of Gray Davis, he is in a panic right now, because he spent $65 million trying to tear me down, and the race is a dead heat," he said.

The Simon campaign billed the Olvera Street rally as part of its outreach to Latinos. Mary George, Simon's diversity outreach chairwoman, spoke in Spanish to cheering supporters waving blue and yellow Simon-for-governor signs.

Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) led a "Viva Simon!" chant, then switched to French, introducing the candidate and his wife Cindy as "the piece de resistance."

A Boy Scouts of America official gave Simon a "distinguished citizen" award before Simon let loose again on Davis.

"I promise you that every day of my administration, my door will always be open, and there will not be a toll gate out in front of it," he said.

"Because we know one thing for sure. All the instances that we've heard about Gray Davis selling public policy and selling his signature, all the while he's raising money for himself, he's not spending time working for our people."

Later, with confetti blowing across the stage, Simon and other GOP candidates danced and clapped hands as a band performed the song with the lyric "Play that funky music, white boy."

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