GOP gubernatorial candidate battles cool reception

The Associated Press
Saturday August 04, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Despite being the only Republican holding statewide office, Secretary of State Bill Jones is battling lukewarm reception from his own party and scant financial support for his gubernatorial campaign. 

With seven months before the primary, the Jones campaign has less than $1 million in the bank – one-thirtieth of the amount amassed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and a third of that raised by Republican candidate William E. Simon Jr. 

And Jones’ potentially biggest political threat is yet to come. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican with the personal wealth to rival Davis’ war chest and the backing of President Bush, has yet to say whether he will run for governor. 

“A lot of people in the political community and the contributing community are just hanging back,” said John Pitney Jr., a Claremont McKenna College government professor who studies Republican party activity. 

Riordan has said he will decide in the next 90 days whether to run, but he has formed an exploratory committee and is touring the state. 

Jones’ campaign chairman, former Gov. George Deukmejian, concedes that Riordan’s waiting to decide is affecting the campaign’s budget. 

“He is only helping Gray Davis, because many traditional contributors are waiting to see who all of the candidates are going to be,” Deukmejian said. 

But Deukmejian said Jones will focus on Davis’ handling of a statewide energy crisis and will “raise enough money to be victorious in the election.” Jones’ camp also plans to focus on the fact that Simon has never held a public office and Riordan has donated to Democratic campaigns including Davis’ in the past. 

In recent weeks, Jones has driven a barrage of news stories criticizing energy consultants and others in Davis’ office for having financial interest in energy companies. 

Some, including members of his own party in private, have questioned his using stationery and staff from his government office for press releases and events attacking Davis. 

Republican insiders say Jones’ campaign treasury simply won’t cut it in a predominantly Democratic state where he must advertise in two expensive television markets. 

Davis spent $35.3 million to get elected in 1998. He came from behind to beat two self-financed candidates, airline executive Al Checchi and Rep. Jane Harman, in the 1998 primary. The four major candidates for governor spent a combined $38 million, most of it on TV ads, in a two-month period before the 1998 primary. 

Politically, Pitney and others say Jones is fighting several other battles in his run for governor. He hails from Fresno, which provides a small support base compared to the Los Angeles home of Davis, Simon and Riordan. 

He lost backers – including Bush and his supporters – last year when he first endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then switched to back maverick GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And though he holds a constitutional office, secretary of state doesn’t attract much public attention. 

“When Republicans pull out their political Geiger counters, they detect radioactivity,” Pitney said. “They realize that, of all the people in California, Bill Jones is probably not the favorite of the Bush White House.” 

Still, Jones has support from some parts of the state’s largest industry, the agricultural community that made up the bulk of his campaign donations in the first six months of this year.  

He boasts years of government experience as a lawmaker and secretary of state. And he has proven he can collect votes from across a state where Democrats dominate. 

Jones campaign manager Rob Lapsley said it is too early in the race to write off Jones as a force. 

“We have between now and March 5 to build the resources that we need and we are absolutely confident that we will do that,” Lapsley said. 


On the Net: Campaign finance reports at http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov and Jones’ campaign Web site at www.BillJones.org