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Westly to Start Airing Ads for Primary

The state controller, a Democratic candidate for governor and relative unknown, is hoping to introduce himself to the public.

January 26, 2006|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

State Controller Steve Westly plans to launch the first television advertising of the Democratic primary for governor today, tapping his dot-com fortune in an effort to gain an early edge over rival Phil Angelides, the state treasurer.

Westly's ad, a biographical spot that plays up his Silicon Valley resume, will air in several small cities around the state over the next several weeks, starting with Chico and Redding in the northern Central Valley, advisors said.

Westly also plans a packed schedule of retail and other campaigning in each area to spark local news coverage while the ad is on the air. His stops around Chico include a brewery, school and town-hall forum.

The early burst of advertising and campaigning -- the primary is June 6 -- offers Westly a chance to test his central themes at relatively low cost. He can adjust them, as needed, before he starts pouring millions of dollars into television advertising in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major markets.

Westly's move is also the first important play in the struggle between Angelides and Westly to define the race for voters. Polls show millions know close to nothing about either candidate. So each will try to introduce himself to the public on his own terms before getting sullied by the other's attack ads. The candidates are vying for the nomination to challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November.

Responding to the first Westly ad, Angelides spokesman Dan Newman said the controller was trying "to reinvent himself." He cited Westly's role as co-chairman of Schwarzenegger's campaign for budget measures on the March 2004 ballot.

"He's hoping that by putting $20 million of his own money into slick TV ads, Democrats will forget how eager he was to jump in Gov. Schwarzenegger's sidecar," Newman said.

As Newman noted, Westly, who built his fortune as an executive at the EBay web auction company, has put $20 million into the campaign. Aides have suggested he will donate millions more, an advantage that Angelides forces are trying to turn into a liability.

"This isn't EBay," Newman said. "There's no button in the governor's office that says, 'Buy it now.' "

Westly's ad takes a kinder turn on his stint at EBay. It says Westly helped build "a new kind of company that created jobs and opportunity for people."

In keeping with his strategy of appealing to moderates, it also credits Westly for cracking down on tax cheats and "bringing in billions without raising taxes."

Touting his credentials on touchstone Democratic issues, it also gives rat-a-tat labels to Westly, a former Stanford University business instructor: "Pro-choice. Defender of the environment. A former teacher committed to education." The ad says nothing about Schwarzenegger.

Even if limited to small markets, Westly's move to start advertising in January puts pressure on Angelides to begin spending his more limited funds sooner than planned. Angelides reported $14.4 million in the bank at the end of June but has not released his finance report for the rest of 2005.

Westly had $24.1 million in his campaign account at the end of December.

"If you have more money than the other guy, you want to make him start to spend money as fast as possible, so at the finish line, his tank will be empty," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who is unaligned in the primary.

Angelides, however, has taken a wide lead in gaining support from unions and elected officials. This weekend, the California Teachers Assn., one of the state's most powerful unions, plans to endorse a candidate in the primary for governor. Its candidate interview committee has recommended Angelides.

A key part of Angelides' appeal to core Democratic groups has been his outspoken opposition to Schwarzenegger when the Republican was one of the nation's most popular governors.

Schwarzenegger's public approval rating plummeted last year, but a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found he has begun to recover. The survey found 40% of Californians approve of his job performance, up from 33% in October. The poll also found that 68% support what is shaping up as a centerpiece of his reelection campaign: his proposal to spend $222 billion over 10 years on highways, schools and other public construction projects.

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Times staff writers Peter Nicholas and Robert Salladay contributed to this report.

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