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California Votes in Gubernatorial Primary - 2002-03-05


Voters in California have gone to the polls to select a Republican challenger to the state's Democratic governor. The winner in the three-way Republican race will face Democratic incumbent Gray Davis in November. Mr. Davis became a force in the race by running campaign ads against the one-time frontrunner.

Heading into the Republican primary, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan was far ahead, by as much as 33 points in one poll. A moderate on issues like gun control and abortion, he had the backing of the White House, which saw him as the best hope to unseat the Democratic incumbent in a state with liberal leanings.

California's Democratic governor, Gray Davis, apparently made the same assessment. In recent weeks he has spent $10 million for television campaign ads attacking Mr. Riordan's shifting position on issues like abortion. The result was a shift in support among Republican voters and a surge for conservative Bill Simon, a Los Angeles businessman and son of a former U.S. treasury secretary. In the most recent poll, Mr. Simon led Mr. Riordan by six percent among his party's voters.

Monday, Richard Riordan accused the Democratic governor of "hijacking the Republican primary." As voters went to the polls Tuesday, he said the race will be close.

Mr. Riordan and Mr. Simon attend the same church and have been good friends, at least until recently. As Mr. Simon cast his vote, he said the friendship and Republican Party unity will survive the election. "It's been a good campaign, a long campaign, I think well fought, with good candidates, and now it's up to the voters," he said.

Trailing in the polls is California's secretary of state, Bill Jones. The only major Republican office holder in a state dominated by Democrats, he hopes that after the primary, his party will come together for the November general election. "The goal is to retire Gray Davis and to improve California to allow the people of this great state to again take part in the California dream that, unfortunately, Gray Davis has deprived us of the last three years," said Mr. Jones.

In another closely watched primary in Central California, U.S. congressman Gary Condit is fighting off a well-funded attack by a former aide in a race to select the Democratic candidate for his district. Mr. Condit was involved in a scandal over a missing intern, Chandra Levy, who disappeared in Washington last May. Mr. Condit is not a suspect in the case, but questions about his relationship with the young woman have eroded support for the congressman in his party and his district.

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