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Simon Becomes California's Republican Gubernatorial Candidate - 2002-03-07

California Republicans Tuesday picked businessman Bill Simon as their candidate to face the state's Democratic governor, Gray Davis, in the November election. Mr. Simon won the Republican Party primaries by a huge, 18-point margin over his leading opponent, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan.

Mr. Simon is a conservative Republican who casts himself in the mold of Ronald Reagan, but he surged to victory in his party primary with the help of a Democrat, incumbent Governor Gray Davis. In the last weeks of the campaign, Mr. Davis spent $10 million on ads attacking the moderate frontrunner in the Republican race, Richard Riordan. The Democrats believed he posed more of a threat to Mr. Davis' re-election.

Ironically, Mr. Riordan's moderate stands on issues like gun control and abortion are more in line with views of most Californians, but not of those who vote in the Republican primary.

Since 1998, Democrats have held most top California offices and Richard Riordan, conceding defeat, urged his party to reach out to women and minorities if Republicans hope to recapture the office of governor. He promised to help his Republican colleague in the coming campaign. He said, "Bill Simon is the hope to bring glory back to the Golden State.

Republicans believe Governor Davis is vulnerable because his voter approval ratings have dropped after an energy crisis that drained California of billions of dollars. Mr. Davis insists he is solving the crisis left to him by his Republican predecessor.

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Davis said his opponent in the governor's race in November is out of step with the voters. "Bill Simon is a true-blue think-tank conservative," he said. "I am a practical problem solver."

Mr. Simon says his campaign will focus on California's problems with education, energy and the budget, issues he thinks will strike a chord with the voters. "So many of these crises could have avoided if we had leaders with ideas and principles," he said. "I don't believe that Gray Davis planned to fail. I just believe that he failed to plan."

Bill Simon is a newcomer on the California political scene, although is father, William Simon, was U.S. Treasury Secretary in the Nixon administration.

As Mr. Simon saw the successful launch of his career, a California political veteran saw his career come to end. Democratic congressman Gary Condit was defeated by a former aide in the race for his party's nomination in his Central California district. The seven-term congressman lost to state assemblyman Dennis Cardoza after a media scandal involving a missing intern, which cost the congressman support within his party. Mr. Cardoza will seek office as the Democratic congressional candidate in November.