Riordan, Simon Tie in Gov. Race
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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Former Mayor Richard Riordan, the one-time front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, has slipped into a dead heat with a conservative businessman making his first try for office, according to a poll released Tuesday, a week before the primary.
The Los Angeles Times poll found Riordan and Bill Simon tied with 31 percent support among people likely to vote in the March 5 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 14 percent.
The dead heat, said pollster Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California, shows Republican voters may be wrestling with their choices: Simon, a conservative who may fit their personal views, or Riordan, a moderate who may have a better chance to win in November.
``GOP voters are clearly struggling with this,″ he said.
After months of having his conservative credentials challenged, Riordan is trying to raise questions about Simon’s record.
In a news conference Tuesday, Riordan stood by an enlarged copy of Simon’s voter registration card from 1984, when Simon registered as an independent. Riordan also said Simon’s voting record was worse than Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal’s record for making free throws.
``I have been more Republican by far,″ Riordan said.
Simon has acknowledged he didn’t register as a Republican until 1992 and failed to vote in several past elections. But spokesman Jamie Fisfis dismissed Riordan’s criticism as ``laughable.″
``This is the last guy who should be out there talking about party purity,″ Fisfis said of Riordan.
Three developments make the race close, said GOP consultant Dan Schnur, a former campaign adviser to Riordan.
The 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.
``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,″ Schnur said.
Second, 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.
Third, Simon capitalized on that opportunity by making a direct appeal to conservative GOP voters. Simon has also linked himself to popular former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Riordan, a 71-year-old millionaire businessman, supports abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, and health care and education for all children, even illegal immigrants.
He 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.
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 governor has opened up the lead, 47 percent to 39 percent.
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 error for registered voters was plus or minus 3 percentage points; for likely Republican primary voters it was 6 points.
On the Net: Information on California races: http://www.calvoter.org