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William B. Ross, 88; Campaign Advisor Knew How to Win

August 26, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

William B. Ross, once dubbed a "kingmaker" by the Saturday Evening Post for his political public relations expertise, which helped elect Richard M. Nixon vice president and president and helped make Pat Brown governor of California and Norris Poulson and Sam Yorty mayors of Los Angeles, has died. He was 88.

Ross, who was in partnership with the late Herbert M. Baus as Baus & Ross Co. from 1948 until 1968, died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications following surgery.

Baus and Ross boasted a 90% win rate during their two-decade run, and literally wrote the book on how to win campaigns: "Politics Battle Plan" in 1968. A Times reviewer called it "entertaining as well as rewarding reading," and suggested that an appropriate subtitle might well be "How to succeed in politics by really trying."

The team was among the first to use now commonplace techniques such as telephone polling and direct-mail distribution of campaign literature. And Ross is credited with staging what may have been California's first political telethon -- a KTTV Channel 11 event that urged voters to approve the sale of Chavez Ravine for construction of Dodger Stadium.

Although they leaned toward Republican candidates, the duo also worked for Democrats such as Brown and Yorty. Other candidates who benefited from their well-organized battle plans were Barry Goldwater in the California portion of his campaign for president in 1964, Los Angeles County Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess and Assessor Philip Watson, Los Angeles Police Chief Tom Reddin, California Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger and San Francisco Mayor George Christopher.

Ross and Baus also triumphed in initiative campaigns, winning passage of measures to expand Los Angeles International Airport, adopt daylight saving time in California and end taxation of church and nonprofit schools.

Ross continued alone after Baus, who died in 1999, retired in 1968. Ross' last major campaign was passing a bond issue that enabled Burbank to take over a former Lockheed property and develop the publicly owned Burbank Airport.

Born in Spokane, Wash., Ross worked his way to a USC journalism degree by running small advertiser-financed newspapers. In his senior year, he founded W.B. Ross and Associates, which created copy for advertisers for a decade until his partnership with Baus.

Ross served on the board of Golden State Bank, started by his father, and its successor Sanwa Bank for more than 20 years. He volunteered to manage finances of several nonprofit organizations, including St. John of God, and had served as president of the Catholic Press Council.

A widower, Ross is survived by two sons, seven daughters, a brother, 19 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions can be sent to Childrens Hospital, 4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027.

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