Riordan and Simon tied in Republican primary for governor |

Riordan and Simon tied in Republican primary for governor

ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Republican race for governor is “an absolute toss-up,” one political analyst said, as a new poll shows candidates Bill Simon and Richard Riordan in a dead heat a week before the March 5 primary.

The Los Angeles Times poll found Simon, a businessman, and former Los Angeles Mayor Riordan tied with 31 percent support among people likely to vote in the Republican primary. A Times poll last month showed Riordan with 14-point lead over Simon.

Secretary of State Bill Jones, also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, has support from 14 percent of likely voters.

It’s a close race because of three developments, said GOP consultant Dan Schnur, a former aide to Republican former Gov. Pete Wilson and a former campaign adviser to Riordan.

First was Democratic Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to spend more than $8 million on television advertisements attacking Riordan, who had led in all Republican polls until this week.

That, Schnur said, is “absolutely unprecedented in California politics” and perhaps the nation.

“I don’t know of a situation in modern political history where an opposition candidate has done so much to influence the race in the opposite party.”

Secondly, Riordan made a strategic decision months ago to look past the conservative Republicans who vote in the GOP primary and appeal to moderate voters who may choose the state’s next governor.

“That provided an opportunity for Simon,” Schnur said.

Third, Simon capitalized on that opportunity by making a direct appeal to conservative GOP voters, coupled with linking himself to popular former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The dead heat, said pollster Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California, shows Republican voters may be wrestling with their choices: a conservative who fits their personal views or a candidate they believe has a better chance to win this November.

In 1998, Republican primary voters sent conservative former Attorney General Dan Lungren to the general election, where Davis easily defeated him.

Baldassare said if Simon wins the primary, the GOP may point to a more upbeat example from California’s past.

“That is the election in 1966, in which Gov. Pat Brown faced an unknown Republican conservative by the name of Ronald Reagan, and the rest is history.”

In Schnur’s view, Riordan can still win if he drops everything and appeals to the GOP base he has long ignored.

Riordan has asserted that Republicans should moderate the party’s views on issues to improve its chances in the November election. That ideology was rejected — 52 percent to 40 percent — by likely GOP primary voters surveyed in the Times poll.

Independents who draw a GOP ballot next week could help Riordan, but he’s not in as good a position as he would have been if California still had an open primary that would have allowed Democrats to vote for him.

Davis also has pulled ahead of Riordan in a possible November election faceoff, according to the poll. Both men were nearly even in January’s poll, Davis with 44 percent and Riordan with 43 percent. The latest poll shows the Democratic governor has opened up the lead, 47 percent to 39 percent for Riordan.

The telephone poll conducted Feb. 20-24 questioned 1,398 registered voters. Of that, 243 said they were likely to vote in the Republican primary. The margin of sampling error for registered voters was plus or minus 3 percentage points; for likely Republican primary voters it was 6 points.

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