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Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is trumpeting this week’s California primary win by Bill Simon, saying he could be the next Ronald Reagan in terms of a political newcomer ousting a sitting Democrat governor.

“Reagan, when he ran for governor, he was dismissed just like Simon – too right wing, he was [an] actor, a novice,” said Limbaugh yesterday in post-primary analysis.


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Bill Simon

Simon overcame long odds and a 30-point poll deficit in a month to catapult past former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan Tuesday night and solidify his GOP candidacy against incumbent Democrat Gray Davis in this fall’s general election.

“I’m not saying Simon needs to be Reagan. Nobody can be anybody they’re not,” said Limbaugh. “But what he needs to do is effectively articulate his principles and contrast them with Davis. Davis gets away with portraying himself as a moderate when he’s not. He’s a liberal!

“[Simon] needs to contrast his conservatism with Davis’ liberalism and general incompetence, and his record of mismanagement – it’s all there waiting. The Democrats ran that state, they controlled Sacramento when Reagan ran and won. He defeated a sitting Democratic governor, Pat Brown. It can happen here.”

Indeed, Reagan – a political novice in 1966 – endured harsh rhetoric from members of his own party before winning the primary and eventually unseating then-Governor Pat Brown.

In published memoirs, Reagan laments the lingering split between conservatives and moderates in the California GOP:


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Ronald Reagan on 1966 Newsweek cover.

“The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.’ It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”

Like Simon, Reagan had defeated a former big-city mayor – George Christopher of San Francisco – before taking on an incumbent Democrat in the governor’s mansion.

“After beating Christopher in the primary,” Reagan wrote, “I had to deal with Brown whose campaign against me, simply put, asked a question: ‘What is an actor doing seeking an important job like the governorship of California?’

“When Pat Brown commissioned a television commercial in which he told a group of small children, ‘I’m running against an actor, and you know who killed Abe Lincoln, don’t you?’ I knew he knew he was in trouble.”

In this year’s California contest, Riordan had been urged to run by President Bush. He ignored conservatives throughout the campaign and attacked Simon in the final days, ending up with 31.4 percent of the GOP vote, compared to 49.4 percent for Simon.

While Limbaugh is heralding Simon’s defeat of Riordan, he warned the 50-year-old investment analyst there’s no time to celebrate.

“Beginning soon, the Davis camp and the California left will begin a strategy … designed to define you as a racist, sexist, bigot homophobe, also as a rich trust-fund kid unqualified to serve as California’s governor,” cautioned Limbaugh. “They’re going to portray you, Mr. Simon, as so extreme that you are dangerous.”

Simon’s father, William, served as treasury secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Limbaugh said it would be interesting to see if national Republicans would help the primary winner defend against any upcoming smear campaign after the White House shunned the more conservative Simon in favor of Riordan.

“I know that the national Republican apparatus looks at the conservative wing of the California Republican Party and they see Kooksville!”

Limbaugh said he was getting tired and frustrated at the continued need to educate the national Republican Party on how to win elections.

“What do they think won George Bush this presidential race?” he asked. “If it weren’t for his wall-to-wall conservatism after McCain won the New Hampshire primary, he wouldn’t have been in a Florida aftermath with Al Gore.”

The broadcaster gave Simon a week to save his candidacy by fending off negative attacks by Democrats, adding Simon would lose to Davis if national Republicans avoid a concerted defense of Simon.

“Every time Republicans try this they lose big time,” said Limbaugh. “Here’s the guy that nobody ever heard of coming back from 30 points down. Why? He’s a conservative! There’s a lesson here for the national Republicans; there’s a lesson here for the White House; there’s a lesson here for a whole bunch of people who want to win elections to learn from.”

Last fall, Limbaugh was among the voices chastising the president for not campaigning for GOP candidates in some high-profile races. Bush was enjoying an all-time high in popularity polls, but Republicans like Bret Schundler and Mark Earley lost their respective governorship quests in New Jersey and Virginia.

During this California primary campaign, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – considered a moderate Republican – endorsed Simon, despite the fact Simon is pro-life and Giuliani favors abortion rights. Limbaugh hopes more GOP bigwigs, including Bush, get involved in the campaign.

“I know you can beat Gray Davis and I want to help in any way I can,” Bush told Simon yesterday, promising to visit the Golden State as soon as he could. “I’ve got a lot of friends out there, including the folks you defeated.”

The 1966 race pitting Reagan against Brown also drew some nationally known figures. Brown brought Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to California in an attempt to belittle Reagan.

Reagan wrote about that campaign, “[Kennedy] began a speaking trip around the state declaring, ‘Reagan has never held any political office before and here he is seeking the top spot in the government of California.’

“He abandoned that theme after my next speech, when I said, ‘I understand there’s a senator from Massachusetts who’s come to California and he’s concerned that I’ve never held office prior to seeking this job. Well, you know, come to think of it, the senator from Massachusetts never held any job before he became a senator.’”

Simon gave no indication of diluting his positions during his acceptance speech and reveled in his role of underdog.

“The Democrats have tried to divide us. They say that California is a one-party state,” Simon said. “But as Mark Twain once said, the rumors of the demise of the California GOP are greatly exaggerated.”

The previous Republican candidate for California governor was Dan Lungren, the state’s former attorney general. He, too, had a conservative platform but lost to Davis by 20 points four years ago. Thus, some national Republicans think California is not winnable. Limbaugh disagrees.

“If there’s ever a Democrat mayor or governor who could be beaten, who’s ripe for it, it’s Gray-Out Davis – with just the last two years, everybody’s memory fresh with this energy crisis and the boondoggle he was directly responsible for.”

The “Gray-Out” moniker is a reference to the rolling electric blackouts and power shortages California experienced last year under Davis’ watch. Limbaugh blames that situation on price caps supported by Davis.

During his own victory speech Tuesday night after an easy primary win, Davis indicated he would confront Simon about his conservative values.

“I respect the sincerity of his beliefs, but I believe many of his ideas are out of step and out of touch with most Californians,” Davis said. “We need to keep moving California forward, not backward, and certainly not to the right.”

Limbaugh urged Simon and other Republicans not to back away from those beliefs, blaming liberal Democrats like Davis for much of America’s problems.

“Every program they come up with is an abject failure,” he said. “They ought to be apologizing to us every day for the money they’ve wasted and the lives they’ve destroyed with the Great Society.

“They have busted up the black family. They have busted up low-income families. The illegitimacy rate in this country is through the roof and it’s because of liberal policies, pure and simple, which have made it unnecessary for fathers to live at home with the families they’ve created. Because government has become Big Daddy. It’s unconscionable what’s happened here.”

Related story:

Bill Simon: Republican for governor

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