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Three months after Bill Simon Jr. won California’s Republican gubernatorial nomination in a smashing come-from-behind victory, Republican activists in the state are asking what has happened to their candidate’s campaign and conservative convictions, and they are beginning to wonder whether he is frittering away his chance to beat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis the way they believe Attorney General Dan Lungren did in his race against Davis in 1998.
Davis is not popular with California voters. He was at the helm during the state’s energy crisis, has called for higher taxes, has run up a budget deficit of $23.6 billion and has done nothing to limit state subsidies to the continuing tide of illegal aliens pouring into the state.
Meanwhile, Simon, instead of attacking Davis, especially through surrogates, is posturing against offshore oil drilling and talking about using borrowed money to improve state parks.
Doubts about Simon’s campaign emerged last month when a Field Poll showed Davis beating Simon 43 percent to 29 percent. The poll was particularly worrisome to Simon supporters because it came only days after Davis proposed raising taxes to overcome the state’s budget deficit. It also showed that, despite his lead in the race, 49 percent of voters disapproved of Davis’ job performance while only 42 percent approved.
Several conservative activists in California last week said Simon has walked away from the right-of-center themes that won him the Republican nomination.
Since he defeated Richard Riordan in the March primary, Simon has featured issues that are anything but conservative. For example, he recently unveiled a plan to phase out offshore drilling in California and announced his support for a $1 billion bond issue to improve state parks – both obvious attempts to appease environmentalists.
In addition, while Simon made no bones about being pro-life in the primary, his most recent remarks on the issue have been that “there is nothing a governor can do” about the abortion issue and that his wife is pro-choice.
Others on the right fault Simon for not making more of his opposition to a Democratic proposal in the state legislature to permit one million illegal immigrants who are applying for legal residency to obtain a California driver’s license. While Davis has indicated he would support some form of the measure, Simon pointed out – in both a televised debate before the primary and in an interview with Human Events last month – that seven of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attack had U.S. driver’s licenses and said that he was opposed to the proposal.
“But, aside from stating his position, Bill really hasn’t talked about or expounded on this issue – a critical one, I think, given the war on terrorism,” said former State Sen. Richard Mountjoy, an early Simon backer who is president of the conservative California Republican Assembly. “If Bill Simon would just hit on the theme of protecting our borders,” said Mountjoy, “he would win easily.”
Simon’s reluctance to use “red meat” issues has not been reciprocated by Davis. Davis’ campaign, in fact, recently ran television ads recalling how Simon served on the board of directors of a savings and loan institution in Marina del Rey that failed during the S&L crisis and was seized by the government.
“Yes, I’m worried about the Simon campaign right now – I like to go on the attack,” said Republican State Committeeman Jack Ward of Santa Cruz County, who backed Secretary of State Bill Jones in the GOP primary but is now actively campaigning for Simon. Ward pointed out that some of Simon’s difficulty can be attributed to California’s having “the earliest primary in the nation and [Simon's] having to do something to hold voters’ attention when the election is five months away.”
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