Man Without Qualities

Thursday, September 12, 2002

The Gray State

Most media have written off GOP Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. Undeterred by any memory of the Truman-Dewey run, the Los Angeles Times, for example, wrote on September 8 that "It's time for the GOP to wake up to reality: Bill Simon is going to lose the gubernatorial election in November.". A company controlled by Simon was hit with a politically damaging jury award in a civil fraud case of more than $70 Million. Simon's Democratic opponent, Gray Davis, reopened a 14-point lead in the polls. Simon's campaign was deemed hopelessly incompetent, while David hammered him with negative commercials - especially commercials focusing on that fraud award. Most recently, the media (especially the Los Angeles Times) has deemed Simon's disavowal of a gay-rights questionnaire that his campaign had answered sympathetically to have been the final, fatal catasthophe.Former Reagan White House adviser Lyn Nofziger, who was briefly an adviser to the Simon campaign, publiclly said Simon is being stupid. Simon is all washed up, right?

Not exactly. The race has taken some unexpected turns. Despite running an allegedly "incompetent" campaign, Simon has halved his poll gap with Davis, who now leads by only 7-points and has clearly lost momentum. Worse for Davis, the number of undecideds actually increased, to 22%, up from 16%. While the Times spins this last result as a "pox on both their houses" ("The more voters see these candidates, the less they're sure they want to vote for either one."), the increase in undecided voters clearly cuts more against the incumbent - who the voters have known for many years. In fact, Mr. Davis' disapproval ratings top his approval ratings. The Times spin also ignores the fact that the voters have mostly been seeing Simon through Davis commercials and hostile press coverage (such as the Times'). Simon, relatively short on funds compared to Davis, is clearly planning an end-loaded campaign whose efforts will increase quite a bit in the next few weeks. That kind of campaign has also been a hallmark of Simon's main advisor.

And now the California judge hearing that fraud action has tossed out the entire verdict (both compensatory and punitive). Having made such a big deal of this fraud action in countless television ads, Davis will now have an interesting time explaining its annulment. Davis' focus on the fraud action has always been more than a little desperate and dangerous for him, since that focus brings attention to ethical considerations generally - where Davis is extremely vulnerable for many questionable activities in building his gigantic warchest.

While the race is very far from over, right now it looks to the Man Without Qualities that Mr. Davis will probably be looking for a new job in November. That may have more to do with Davis' own problems than with Simon's political genius. But, before dismissing Mr. Simon's political intelligence, perhaps one should spend some time pondering Mr. Simon's come-from-behind win over of Richard Riordan in the Republican primary. And I don't recall the "main stream" media ever relenting in their assertions that Ronald Reagan was a dope - even as he eventually handilly defeated their favored candidates one by one by one.


UPDATE: TechCentral's C.C.Kraemer has some very perceptive things to say on this topic.

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