Republican candidates to face off in first three-way debate

By Alexa Haussler The Associated Press
Monday January 21, 2002

SAN JOSE – The leading Republican gubernatorial candidates will face each other in a televised three-way debate in San Jose Tuesday night. 

The first of two debates to be broadcast statewide will provide many voters with their first glimpse of Secretary of State Bill Jones, businessman Bill Simon and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. 

“We basically have all the ingredients necessary for a lot of political sizzle,” said moderator Stan Statham, president of the California Broadcasters Association. 

The primary is March 5. 

Four out of 10 likely voters still haven’t decided whom they are going to support in the race, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll. 

The Republican hopefuls also are trying to woo independent voters, who can vote for any party in the semi-open primary. 

Political analysts say the debates are particularly crucial for Simon and Jones, who trail front-runner Riordan in most polls. 

Simon, who has never run for public office, needs to boost his recognition across the state and prove he can compete in a political debate. Jones, meanwhile, has failed to generate excitement around his campaign, despite being the only Republican holding statewide office. 

But Riordan, though the leading contender now, has made several public slip-ups and is widely seen as the most likely to blunder during the debate. 

“Riordan has been in debates before but he sometimes has foot-in-mouth disease, so can he get through the debate without making any embarrassing mistakes?” asked Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. 

Indeed, Pitney said, a key for the candidates will be to avoid any major gaffes, Pitney said. 

“The most important thing is to avoid doing something damaging. (Debates) can’t help a candidate very much but they can hurt a great deal,” Pitney said. 

Tuesday’s one-hour debate will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on television stations in all of California’s major markets. During the face-off, the candidates will be seated, facing a panel of three Northern California journalists, rather than standing at the traditional podiums. 

A second televised debate is scheduled to take place in Long Beach on Feb. 13. The three candidates also have agreed to debate on Feb. 9 at the state Republican Party convention in San Jose, but it will not be televised. 

The primary winner will challenge Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on Nov. 5.