News Analysis

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Simon attacks Davis at Malibu beach press conference

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. charges Gov. Davis is running a “pay for play” administration. Voters appear indifferent to both candidates

By Arnold G. York/Publisher

The cash-short Republican Bill Simon campaign returned to Malibu Monday afternoon for a press conference on the beach to try and drive home the campaign theme that Gov. Gray Davis has allegedly put the seaside up for sale to the highest bidder.

Pushing his theme, in which he characterized Davis’ policy as being money driven, requiring that one must “pay to play,” Simon attempted to capitalize on just publicly released, decade-old court records in which convicted former California Coastal Commissioner Mark L. Nathanson, while trying to bargain for a lighter sentence, tried to implicate then controller Davis in a bribery scandal. The offer had been rejected by prosecutors at the time, who considered Nathanson a liar and unreliable, and the court sentenced Nathanson to prison. A federal judge ordered the release of all the court records from the case on Monday, only because the United States Supreme Court had ordered him to do so, leaving the lingering question unanswered as to whether there had been an attempt to cover up the issue over the last decade.

The Malibu seaside press conference, which took place near the Zonker Harris public accessway, adjacent to the closed Windsail Restaurant, was a master public relations stroke for the Simon campaign in that all the local Los Angeles TV and print media attended. For many, it led the nightly news broadcast, and was the lead story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Buying time in the Los Angeles market is one of the most expensive media buys in the country, and any political story/photo op that leads in both TV and print is considered a great victory if the message that’s being sold is received and given prominence.

Speaking loudly to be heard over the waves that were practically lapping at his ankles, Simon tried hard to sell his message, that somehow by accepting all the money he did, Davis was corrupt. Simon’s message was apparently greeted with skepticism in coverage, and also, apparently, by the general voting public. A just released survey from the highly regarded Los Angeles Times Poll, indicated that, even though Davis was viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of those polled, which for an incumbent usually signals a disaster, challenger Simon did even worse, with 58 percent of those polled viewing him unfavorably. Simon’s problem appears to be that, although most voters agree with him about Davis, they tend to view the Republican candidate as inexperienced and not overly bright, with, at best, a very uncertain business background based on inherited wealth. During Simon’s public appearances, when he’s questioned he never strays from the message, and listeners sense he’s afraid to get off the trail too far for fear he’ll trip up.

It has apparently come down to a contest between two very unpopular candidates. When the voting public is asked to measure one against the other, it appears to favor Davis over Simon by 45 percent to 36 percent, with 8 percent still undecided.