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The State

Davis, Simon Appeal to Party Loyalists

The governor and his Republican challenger ask for a big turnout.

October 28, 2002|Gregg Jones and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

With the attention of much of the state fixed less on politics than the intrigues of baseball, the two major candidates for governor of California campaigned among their parties' most loyal backers Sunday as the election got down to the simple math of who can lure more voters to the polls.

In Los Angeles, Gov. Gray Davis defended his first term and asked for a second, speaking to African American voters, the Democratic party's most dependable bloc. In Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, Bill Simon Jr. and other members of the Republican ticket basked in support at a GOP barbecue and rally. Simon continued to portray himself as an underdog finishing the campaign with a surge against the incumbent governor, much as he closed strongly against the front-runner for much of the GOP primary, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. As he has repeatedly in recent days, Simon depicted Davis as desperately trying to cling to a dwindling lead in the polls -- a characterization that Davis has dismissed as Republican fiction.

"I'll tell you this: Gray Davis is a desperate man," Simon told his cheering supporters, packed into the sun-drenched courtyard of a local community hall nine days before the Nov. 5 election. "He promised one week ago he'd be running only positive ads because he was up by so far in the polls. One week later, Gray Davis once again broke his word. And the reason why he's running negative ads is that he knows he cannot persuade Californians that he's been a good governor." During his quick swing through northern California, Simon appeared with state Sen. Bruce McPherson, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and other Republican candidates for statewide office.

Simon and McPherson both stressed the importance of a strong turnout by Republicans, who are 1.5 million shy of Democratic registration numbers. "Talk to your friends and get them out to the polls, because I believe it's going to be a close election," Simon said. Simon touched on the familiar themes of his campaign -- lower taxes and less government -- and accused Davis of mismanaging the state's finances. Alluding to Davis' overwhelming advantage in campaign funds, which Simon has partially offset with more than $10 million in personal loans to his campaign, the Republican candidate accused his opponent of corruption.

"Davis is not afraid to sell public policy as we go, so as a result he's outspent me 5-1, and we're still within 3 or 4" points, Simon said. Davis has repeatedly denied any links between campaign contributions and his appointments and policy decisions. After his stump speech, Simon donned a blue apron and picked fat steaks off a smoky grill. Speaking to reporters later, Simon blamed Davis for the looming state budget crisis and the projected shortfall of at least $10 billion that awaits the next governor.

Simon declined to specify what programs he would cut if he won the election. He also refused to say whether he would cut programs like Cal Grant scholarships for college-bound students and Healthy Families, which provides health care for children in low-income families. As governor, Davis has significantly expanded both programs.

"I'm not going to be specific today, but there will be difficult decisions that will have to be made," Simon said. "But I believe if we are fiscally prudent, we'll be fine."

Davis, in his one public appearance Sunday at the First AME Church in central Los Angeles, touted his record on education and health insurance and promised to do more if reelected.

A large church choir was belting out a hymn when the governor arrived for the noon service along with Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). As Davis embraced Pastor Cecil Murray, the congregation of several hundred cheered loudly. In his short address, Davis cited what he said were achievements in his administration.

"I have kept in mind all the days I've been privileged to serve the people of this great state that we are all God's children," Davis said, "and that all of us honored to be in public service should do what we can to lift the opportunities and spirits of every human being God put on this planet every chance we get." The governor said that, on his watch, test scores have gone up and local schools are improving.

"We have a long ways to go, but I think you can see in your schools, things are getting better," he said. "It is a long road, and, with God's help and your help, we will get there." Davis also noted that 300,000 new college scholarships have been created for low-income students and that the number of African American children with health insurance has increased 400% in the last 3 1/2 years.

"My goal is to move us all forward, move us all forward for four more years," Davis said. After he spoke, Watson addressed the congregation, calling Davis her "friend and partner in politics." She urged the audience to go to the polls on Nov. 5. "Are you going to be for the progressive team?" she asked. "Yeah!" responded the congregation. "God bless you!" she said.

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