New GOP Face Considers Run Against Davis


Republican William E. Simon Jr., a Los Angeles investment banker and political unknown, has launched an exploratory campaign for governor as the state GOP casts about for a credible candidate to face incumbent Gray Davis.

Simon, 49, the son of the late U.S. treasury secretary, is assembling a campaign team and has committed a six-figure sum to his preliminary effort. He is expected to formally announce his candidacy within a few months.

Simon’s move comes as Democrat Davis struggles to solve the state’s electricity crisis, drawing widespread criticism for what Davis acknowledges is a cautious approach.


“Fundamentally, the energy crisis has demonstrated that we have a chief executive who does not know how to lead,” said Sal Russo, a veteran GOP strategist who has been hired to oversee Simon’s initial effort. “Sometimes it’s good to get somebody who’s outside the system to bring change.”

Simon declined to be interviewed Wednesday, referring calls to his campaign consultants.

As a political newcomer, he faces significant hurdles to his candidacy, not least of them being the historic aversion Californians have shown toward wealthy neophytes, including industrialist Norton Simon, oil man Michael Huffington and former airline executive Al Checchi. Norton Simon and Huffington failed in their bids for the U.S. Senate; Checchi ran unsuccessfully for governor.

All sank millions of dollars into losing efforts. With their experience in mind, Russo said, Simon will seek to supplement his own generous spending with contributions from others.

“You cannot be a successful candidate for governor unless a lot of people support you politically and financially,” Russo said.

The 2002 race for governor has been slow to start--especially compared with the contest four years ago, when there was no incumbent--a measure of Davis’ political strength and the beleaguered state of the California Republican Party.

Although the governor is mired in the energy crisis, he enjoys a $26-million bankroll. And the GOP has no obvious candidate in a position to capitalize on Davis’ plight.


Secretary of State Bill Jones--the only Republican holding statewide office--is the nominal front-runner for the GOP nomination. But his latest campaign finance report showed a meager $118,000 balance as of Dec. 31, and he is still not committed to running for governor.

Moreover, Jones’ candidacy has failed to inspire much enthusiasm within the party. Leading Republicans have been quietly sounding out other, less conventional candidates, among them actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has signaled possible interest.

“Gray Davis and Bill Jones are very much alike,” said Tony Quinn, a GOP analyst. “They’re professional, competent. They’ve been around the state and know how to put a budget together. Under ordinary circumstances, that would be the normal way to look at the next governor’s race.”

But a “political meltdown” arising from the electricity fiasco could open the door for a less conventional candidate, Quinn said, “A man on a white horse who can say: ‘I know how to run a business, I know how to turn the lights on and get things done. ‘ “

Simon is co-founder of William E. Simon & Sons, a private investment firm formed in 1988 by the late U.S. Treasury Secretary William E. Simon and sons William Jr. and J. Peter Simon. The firm has offices in West Los Angeles and Morristown, N.J.

Simon’s bid for governor would be his first attempt at public office.

For three years, from 1985 to 1988, he served as a federal prosecutor in New York City under then-U.S. Atty. Rudolph Giuliani. Since moving to Southern California, Simon has been active in a number of charitable organizations.