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Tuesday, July 16, 2002


Lately I seem to be fixated on the California gubernatorial race, and that's really not my intention.

But I live here in California, and it's hard not to be fascinated by the spectacle. Dan Walters has another excellent column comparing the Davis-Simon contest to the 1994 race between Governor Pete Wilson and State Treasurer Kathleen Brown. Wilson's popularity had fallen into a chasm, I think getting as low as 15% in 1992, but he was able to trash Brown over her death penalty opposition and use Prop 187 as a wedge issue to win re-election. Dan Walters thinks a similar scenario could play itself out this year.

The true depth of Gray Davis' difficulties is encapsulated in the fact that he hasn't crushed Simon so far. Neither Simon nor his campaign strategists have shown an enormous amount of competence, to put it as delicately as possible. But as I posted back on May 23rd, Davis finds himself the focus of a "perfect storm" that he himself whipped up -- so perfect it just might capsize him regardless of what kind of campaign his opponent runs.

One question that dogged Pete Wilson throughout his 1994 campaign was whether he would run for President in 1996. He publicly promised to serve out his full second term as Governor, and then immediately reversed himself once he got re-elected. This did not endear him to Republicans, already burned by George H.W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" lie. They also feared that a Wilson candidacy would leave California in the hands of Lt. Governor Gray Davis, since whenever Wilson campaigned outside the state, the Governor's full powers would be automatically assumed by the Lt. Governor.

Wilson never recovered from his disastrous and abortive Presidential fling.

So the question I'm not hearing from anyone is: Will Gray Davis promise not to run for President or Vice-President in 2004 if he is re-elected? After all it's never been any secret that Davis harbors Presidential ambitions, and any California governor is automatically ranked as a serious Presidential or VP possibility.

What does this tell us about Davis? Why isn't he being hammered with that question the way Wilson was? Shouldn't a re-election victory under horrid political circumstances ignite a Davis Presidential boomlet?

One possible answer is that Davis is facing much worse re-election odds than even Wilson did, so no one is looking beyond November 5th. A better answer is that Davis has shown himself to be so incredibly corrupt and incompetent that the concept of him as President is totally incomprehensible to most people.

Still, it would be amusing for someone to ask the question, and to see if Davis will make a Wilsonian promise to complete a second term as Governor.

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