Simon Could Hold the Fiscal Cards in Race With Davis


Nearly every political pundit and veteran campaign watcher is virtually assuring that Gov. Gray Davis will make mincemeat out of Bill Simon Jr. come November. Simon, they say, is too inexperienced, too unknown, and most importantly, too conservative. His opposition to gun control and abortion, and his support for school vouchers mark him as a candidate wildly out of step with most Californians. Davis quickly snatched at Simon' political jugular, by declaring him unelectable because of his right-wing positions.

But Davis should go slow before uncorking the champagne.

Though Davis sneers at Simon as an investor and financier, these are not dirty words with many voters. With the state facing a deficit of $17 billion, and no hint that the checkbook will fatten between now and November, Simon can appeal to voters on pocketbook and quality of life issues.

The biggest of these are education, transportation and the economy. He must convince voters that he can use his business savvy to make tough decisions on taxes and spending cuts, and to effectively micromanage the budget to squeeze more dollars for roads, schools, and housing.

Simon took a smart step in that direction by wrapping himself in the mantle of former Democratic California Gov. Pat Brown Sr. He reminds one and all that Brown built and expanded California's roads, freeways and colleges in the mid-1960s, and that he will do the same. And he can tout his personal ties with President Bush to assure voters that he, not Davis, can get more federal dollars for business, transportation, and schools out of Washington. Bush almost certainly will make several well-timed appearances in the state aimed to energize the troops behind Simon.

Simon also can turn the vote numbers around. In the primary, Simon shelled out $5 million of his own money and he will have unlimited Republican dollars to spread around. This will buy a lot of TV airtime to massage his message or parry Davis' attacks.

Though Democrats have a lopsided edge over Republicans in the number of registered voters, it's who shows up on Election Day that counts. The combined primary vote of Simon and third place finisher Bill Jones nearly matched Davis' total. Simon fired up traditional Republicans. They felt they finally had someone who spoke their language on social and economic issues. They will almost certainly stampede to the voting booths.

Finally, there's Davis himself. He is still blamed for bungling the energy crisis and ordering draconian slashes in spending that will severely hamper state services. Simon can hammer him on these issues. He can ask voters how and why they should expect Davis to right the state's wobbling economic ship?

Of course, Davis is a tenacious campaigner and has the granite support of labor, Latinos and African-Americans. But with tons of money and eight months to sell his message, Simon can make it a respectable race. If so, it will put Republican conservatives firmly back on the map in the state.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. He can be heard on KPFK Radio, 90.7FM, Tuesdays, 7-8 p.m.

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