CHICO — Gov. Gray Davis rallied rural residents and workers while Republican challenger Bill Simon courted farmers Monday as each scrambled to secure support from crucial blocs of voters with 15 days until Election Day.
Davis spent the second of two days trying to attract votes in rural areas, flying from a searing afternoon rally with college students and workers at California State University, Chico, to a union gathering in chilly fog in the north coast’s Eureka.
He told students he had worked to hold down tuition in the face of a budget crisis and had helped make more scholarships available to students.
“We’re trying to make the doors of college open to every deserving student and we are making good progress,” Davis said to the crowd at the construction site of a new administrative building at the university.
He urged supporters to encourage others to vote, and he said he is confident he can hold onto his lead with voters. “On the bread and butter issues, they know that we’ve made progress and they are giving us credit for that,” Davis said.
Traveling by private jet with his wife Sharon and party and labor leaders, Davis then headed to the northern reaches of the state for another labor union rally in Eureka.
While Davis was promoting his labor-friendly policies to union audiences, Simon was accepting the endorsement of the influential California Farm Bureau Federation during a campaign bus tour in the farm-rich Central Valley.
The Republican candidate got federation support after Davis alienated farmers and growers by signing a bill that called for mediation in labor talks between farmworkers and farmers. Surrounded by hay bales and baskets for produce in Tulare, Simon repeated his promise to support farmers when he’s elected governor on Nov. 5.
“Please spread the word that help is on the way, help in the form of support for our agriculture industries,” Simon said to enthusiastic applause.
From there, Simon headed for Fresno and Stockton. He will also attend a San Francisco fund-raiser featuring Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Davis defended his work for the state’s largest industry — agriculture. He touted tax breaks that he signed to aid farmers last year, and a new campaign to encourage residents to buy produce grown in California. He also brushed off Simon’s criticism of the farm worker mediation bill he signed last month.
“Farm workers are the hardest working people on the planet, and if they don’t do their job well, you can’t put nutritious food on your table,” Davis said. “He’s thrown a lot of bombs that have exploded in his face, so I don’t attach much credibility to his commentary.”
The 95,000-member California Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest agricultural group. In making its endorsement, the Farm Bureau Federation said it was donating $25,000 to the Simon campaign and sending mailers on his behalf.
The Central Valley is heavily Republican. Kern County, for instance, favored GOP candidate Dan Lungren over Gray Davis 55 percent to 42 percent in the 1988 gubernatorial race. Davis won the statewide contest in a landslide.
At the Bakersfield kickoff, Simon said: “I believe that agriculture is perhaps our most important industry in California and I pledge that when I become governor the agricultural industry is going to be pre-eminent in my thinking.”
Simon and his wife Cindy boarded the custom-painted campaign bus, with “Bill Simon for Governor” on the sides and “Fire Davis” on the rear, at 6:45 a.m. The natural gas-powered bus was jammed with reporters accompanying the Republican on the campaign excursion.
At each stop on his daylong tour, Simon spoke with local growers who said their livelihood was being threatened by over regulation under the Davis administration.
“They’re fighting for their rights and their livelihood,” state Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, said while introducing Simon at the Fresno stop.