Faced with sagging popularity in the polls, Gov. Gray Davis' campaign team announced plans Friday to launch a statewide radio advertising blitz to boost public awareness of the governor's push to solve the energy crisis.
The governor's ad effort begins Monday with a 60-second spot that sounds more like a public service announcement than a campaign commercial. It comes as out-of-state Republican groups are waging a TV assault against Davis over his handling of the state's power crunch.
Garry South, Davis' campaign strategist, said the $150,000-a-week campaign is not intended as a counterattack to the Republican ads, but rather to keep voters up to date on the governor's efforts on their behalf.
Although the power crisis and Davis' role in it has by far been the top news story in the state this year, South said the campaign's internal polling indicates there remains a "pretty significant information void" among state voters about the positive steps being taken.
Dubbed "energy updates," the governor's radio spots will run for at least two months, South said. The commercials will change every week to 10 days, and should reach about 90% of the listening public, he added. Although it is focusing on radio, South said, the campaign is not ruling out a turn to TV if needed.
The advertisements are being financed by Davis' $30-million political treasury, not out of public money.
In the first advertisement, rolled out by South at a Sacramento news conference, Davis touts the public's effort to conserve energy and spotlights the state's push to license and build power plants.
But he also warns that California is "not out of the woods yet" and advises that continued conservation is the best way to minimize blackouts and "fight back against high energy prices."
Though the initial ad is decidedly nonpartisan in tone, California Republicans said the effort represents Davis' first volley of campaign 2002, even with election day still 16 months away.
"The campaign season has started early," said Rob Stutzman, state GOP spokesman. "I don't blame the governor. [Davis] was thought to be unbeatable, and now he's extremely vulnerable."
Republicans also noted that the Davis ads, though financed with campaign funds, dovetail with the state Department of Consumer Affairs' $50-million public service TV campaign to encourage energy conservation.
Davis' poll numbers have slipped in recent months as the energy crisis deepened. A Los Angeles Times poll late last month found that more than half of all Californians disapprove of the governor's stewardship compared to a 37% disapproval rating in February.
South, however, noted that the same poll showed Davis drubbing three prospective Republican challengers: Secretary of State Bill Jones, Los Angeles investment banker William E. Simon Jr. and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
The consultant also minimized the impact on Davis of TV attack ads launched by conservative groups, which have portrayed Davis as an instigator of the power crisis. He said focus groups have indicated that most voters are in no mood to see the energy crisis embroiled in partisan chicanery.