Simon campaign hoping for push from GOP convention

Erica Werner The Associated Press
Sunday September 29, 2002

GARDEN GROVE — Republicans gathered for the first day of their semiannual state convention Friday hoping to give their beleaguered gubernatorial nominee, Bill Simon, a push to Election Day Nov. 5. 

Some of the faithful arriving at the Hyatt Regency Orange County for the weekend event acknowledged that Simon faces a tough fight against his better-funded opponent, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans and infighting has divided the GOP. 

But one thing seemed to give the delegates hope: Davis’ low approval ratings. 

“I mean really, you don’t talk to people coming up and defending his character or defending his ideas,” said Roberta Wright, 61, of Redding, an alternate delegate to the convention. “I don’t know anything that people would defend on his part.” 

It was a sentiment echoed by other delegates and one that’s borne out in polls in which the governor’s approval rating has hovered at or below 50 percent for more than a year. 

That has also united the fractured GOP, which at its last convention six months ago was busy fighting over who would become the nominee: Simon, Secretary of State Bill Jones or former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, the moderate choice who at that point had a comfortable lead in polls. 

Delegates want to put that discord behind them this weekend. Riordan was nowhere to be seen and Jones, the Republicans’ only statewide officeholder, was being feted at a banquet Friday night. 

Simon was scheduled to address the hundreds of delegates at a luncheon Saturday. 

“This convention is important for our campaign because we need an excited Republican Party for us to be successful on Nov. 5,” the candidate’s chief consultant, Sal Russo, told a media briefing. 

Simon’s campaign has stumbled since the primary, but earlier this month a state judge provided a victory by throwing out a $78 million civil fraud verdict against the candidate’s investment firm. 

Now, Simon’s aides want to reintroduce the nominee to voters. 

They unveiled a new ad to begin airing Tuesday that shows Simon strolling toward the camera and asking, “Do you know me? I survived millions of dollars of Gray Davis lies and distortions. I was a federal prosecutor under Rudy Giuliani ... I’m not a politician, but I will clean up Sacramento. I’m Bill Simon.” 

The party is also trying to use the verdict reversal to collect more funds. A solicitation arrived in mailboxes in recent days labeled “Bill Simon Vindication Emergency Reply.” 

Simon has struggled for donations and has been airing ads only sporadically, while Davis’ ads have been blanketing the airwaves since early June. While refusing to give details, Russo insisted that Simon, who was eight points behind Davis in the most recent independent poll, would have enough money to run a credible media campaign through the election.