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In Mailers, Davis Keeps Up Attack

Politics: Hit pieces are sent to specific groups. Message to women says Simon will try to end abortion rights.

September 26, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of questioning Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr.'s business ethics, Gov. Gray Davis is opening a new front of attack against his opponent: painting him as a right-wing extremist.

In a new multimillion-dollar direct mail campaign launched this week, Davis accuses Simon of siding with the most radical members of his party and warns that the GOP candidate will try to overturn abortion rights--something Simon has said he will not do.

The glossy campaign mailers--and others that will go after Simon's record on the environment and education--will be sent to millions of Democrats and independents around the state throughout the rest of the campaign, even as the governor maintains a heavy presence on television.

The tactic is one that Davis strategists indicated they would use when Simon, a conservative businessman, won the GOP primary last spring. But Simon stumbled badly throughout the summer, delaying the release of his tax returns and enduring a fraud verdict against his family's investment firm--events that gave the governor material for a series of television commercials. With the tax issue behind Simon and the verdict thrown out, the governor's campaign is now going after Simon's conservative stances, a theme Davis used four years ago against former Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren.

Davis "didn't have to use this before, because Simon has been shooting himself in the foot," said Barbara O'Connor, the head of the Institute for Media and Politics at Cal State Sacramento. "So he saved this one for later."

Several political analysts said that Davis' assault on Simon's conservatism, coupled with his recent signing of several bills favored by liberals, indicates that the Democratic governor is anxious to motivate his core supporters during a campaign in which many voters have indicated dissatisfaction with both candidates.

"He has to do it, because he can't afford the base of the party to be indifferent to the election," said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies. "The whole point is you aren't worried that they're going to vote for Simon," Cain added. "You're worried that they won't show up at all."

Davis spokesman Roger Salazar insisted that Simon has a bigger problem holding onto his base than Davis does, but he agreed that the new mailers are designed to energize Democrats.

"What we want to do is make sure our base voters do know what the difference is between the two candidates," Salazar said. "As they learn more and more about where [Simon] stands, they'll come out in force."

And by sending mail pieces specifically to women, environmentalists and ethnic groups, Davis is attempting to get out his message without alienating other voters, experts said. In fact, just as the mailers are being sent out, the Davis campaign began airing two new positive television commercials that focus on the governor's work on education and veterans' issues.

"People are truly, truly nauseated by the persistent drumbeat of negative ads, and I'm sure their focus groups are telling them that," O'Connor said. "So it's very smart to send this message in a different venue."

This week, women around the state will receive the first round of mailers, which warn that Simon is opposed to abortion. The GOP candidate has stated that he is pro-life, but that he would uphold current California laws protecting abortion.

However, the Davis mailers claim that Simon "would overturn the right to choose" and that he has ties to "anti-choice extremists." One piece features a photo of a stern young woman on the cover with her arms crossed and the words "Don't Go There." Inside, the mailer reads: "There's only one way to stop Simon and his radical anti-choice agenda. Vote to protect your rights." Another mailer called "Women We Trust" features photos of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and highlights Davis' endorsements from pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood. Future pieces will focus on crime, education and the environment.

The Simon campaign blasted the Davis mailers as "scare tactics."

"Gray Davis has sunk to a new low," said Simon campaign spokesman Mark Miner, noting Simon's promise not to overturn abortion rights. "You have a desperate governor that is attacking like a rabid dog in a cage."

Salazar defended the mailers, saying that Simon has not had a consistent position on abortion. "It's hard to take him at his word, when his track record shows he's very much involved in the movement to overturn a woman's right to choose," he said.

Some Republican political experts said the governor's campaign will have a difficult time convincing voters that Simon is an extremist on certain social issues.

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