Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 21, 2002

California's First Undead Governor?

The Man Without Qualities has long believed that the media is unduly harsh on Bill Simon and his prospects for becoming California governor.

More recently, though, Simon's gaffes have seemed more nearly fatal.

But although Simon's error was very serious, it is worth recalling that most voters will not cast their vote for a governor on the basis of his ability to identify public offices in the background of photographs, or even to choose aides who can do that. And one should also keep in mind that Mr. Simon trailed badly in the polls until just shortly before he clobbered Richard Riordan in the Republican primary. And one should acknowledge that Mr. Davis has deep substantive problems, both with his ethics and in how he has performed as governor, which go far beyond Mr. Simon's gaffes.

In short, if California's election of its governor were decided on substance, Bill Simon would win. Gray Davis' performance in the polls and with the media is a triumph of form over substance.

So it is not ultimately surprising that at least some polls now show that Simon is close - possibly in the lead.

Perhaps more important, Davis has not yet passed the 50% mark in these polls. At this time in a campaign, many professional political consultants will say that an incumbent such as Davis who has not passed the 50% mark in the polls is probably going to lose:

When an incumbent seeks re-election, the key question is whether his vote polls over or under 50 percent. If more than half the voters are backing his opponent or are undecided, he's in trouble. It's like asking someone if they will be married to the same person next year: An answer of "undecided" isn't exactly encouraging.

So Simon's showing in these polls that show him close are not the most important thing. If these polls are even with 10 % of accuracy, Davis is probably toast because of his failure to pass that 50% mark.

But I'm not taking any bets.

UPDATE: Unexpected support for the possibility of a Simon win comes from The Note: "[W]e still wouldn't be shocked if Simon won this thing."

My feelings exactly!

FURTHER UPDATE: A new poll says just 41% of Californians plan to vote for Davis - far short of the classically "needed" 50%. Chapter I of the professional political consultant's textbook says Davis is in deep trouble. Mickey Kaus asks the same question.

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