Originally Published November 11, 2002 – UCR Highlander
One of the several columns I wrote for the college paper during my tenure as a student at UC Riverside where I graduated with a BA in Political Science in ‘03.
The California Republican Party is in a time of crisis after election day. The base was more motivated this year, but the swing voters were motivated to vote for incumbents and the Democratic Party as a whole.
Bill Simon came out in a stealth campaign in the March primary. Many observers expected former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to easily win the Republican gubernatorial primary, but Simon motivated the fringe of the GOP to pull for him in a low voter turnout election. Gray Davis is still unpopular according to opinion polls; he never received higher than a 45 percent job approval rating this year.
Voters wanted better candidates this election cycle. Many Democrats and independents wanted to vote for Riordan, the man that Bush operative Karl Rove wanted to win the state for the president. Instead, thanks in large part to a Davis-funded $10 million hit campaign on Riordan before the March primary, the state GOP fielded a novice candidate who was running against a thirty-year plus veteran of politics. What did Bill Simon do right this election cycle?
Compared to 1998 Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren, Bill Simon got the base out to vote for him. The base is composed of the dedicated activists who are the lifeblood of its party. Simon got the values crowd, the gun rights people and the conservatives to come out for him. What did Bill Simon do so wrong that caused him to lose this year?
Simon first had the income tax scandal; Gray Davis pressured Simon to release his tax forms to see if Simon was hiding anything. Then, Simon had a lawsuit against him with one of his business dealings for $78 million in July that made voters think that Simon was an inept executive.
Even though the lawsuit was overturned, people still thought of that verdict. The recent stories on corporate fraud and greed made it a bad time for people in business to run for office because of the downturn in the economy. Political candidates know that in campaigning the first to define his or her opponent has an advantage in keeping that picture in the minds of voters until the election.
Bill Simon also alienated his base by trying to outreach to swing voters with the California Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay and lesbian Republicans and their allies.
The Log Cabin Republicans sent Bill Simon the group’s questionnaire, and Simon surprisingly said that he would sign a proclamation for Gay Pride Day and support domestic partner benefits. The news of this development infuriated the values community from Lou Sheldon to Randy Thomasson, and the base was devastated. Bill Simon then decided to close his bridge to the moderates and swing voters by disavowing that he ever did sign that questionnaire. Bill Simon had a chance to reach out to a wide audience, but he was stuck with his political bedfellows for times of good and bad.
A strategy that could help California Republicans in 2006 is examining how Linda Lingle, Mitt Romney and George Pataki won their respective gubernatorial elections in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, respectively.
These individuals courted everyone that made up their party and reached out to the other side to achieve victory in their states. Courting voters that want to ban abortion, legalize discrimination against homosexuals and own firearms without restrictions may bring hardcore members of the GOP to the polls, but it certainly does not enhance the turnout of independents and weak partisans. The idea of “Inclusion Wins” is only the first step towards Republican victory, but the next step is to also carry on the good fight.
Voters want substance, they do not want to hear the typical sound byte platitudes. California may be facing a horrific budget deficit, but there was no good argument to elect Bill Simon even though Gray Davis was the culprit of many of these financial troubles. Let the Democrats implode on their own problems.