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Bush Congratulates Simon for Win

March 6, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House will continue its involvement in Republican primary fights this year, even though President Bush’s hand-picked candidate in the California governor’s race was soundly beaten in the first election of the campaign season.

Bush congratulated Bill Simon on Wednesday for defeating former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Bush pledged to support Simon, promising to visit California ``as soon as I can.″

``I know you can beat Gray Davis and I want to help in any way I can,″ Bush said in a brief conversation that was broadcast on a speaker phone to Republicans gathered for a post-primary celebration in Los Angeles. ``I’ve got a lot of friends out there, including the folks you defeated.″

The White House encouraged Riordan to run for governor, but Riordan lost to the more conservative Simon on Tuesday by a margin of 49 percent to 31 percent.

``The president will continue to make judgments about various races based on what he thinks,″ White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, when asked whether Riordan’s defeat made the White House rethink its tactics. ``That will get put to the voters and the voters decide in the end.″

Presidents typically stay out of primary contests, allowing voters to first select party nominees. But Bush and his aides have been openly recruiting GOP candidates and stumping for them, long before the primary elections. Last week, Bush campaigned for one-time rival Elizabeth Dole, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Senate in North Carolina.

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