Financier Bill Simon Jr., who for months had been reluctant to criticize Richard Riordan, on Thursday unleashed his first attack ad against his friend and GOP rival, accusing the former Los Angeles mayor of being "ashamed to be a Republican."
The sharp-edged Simon spot opens up a second front for Riordan, who already is facing a $7.5-million television advertising blitz by Gov. Gray Davis, the incumbent Democrat in the race for governor of California.
Over the last month, Davis has engaged in an unusual strategy to influence the Republican contest.
He has pumped millions into his ad campaign attacking Riordan on the emotional issues of abortion and the death penalty, even though Davis has no serious opposition in his own primary.
The paid television campaign is heating up as the race enters a pivotal phase, with strategists making the tactical decisions that will carry them through election day.
Campaign disclosure reports filed Thursday indicate that Simon and Riordan dramatically stepped up their fund-raising over the last few weeks, pulling in several million dollars in February. Secretary of State Bill Jones trailed far behind the other two.
Overall, the three Republicans have raised more than $23 million for their campaign efforts to unseat Davis.
From Jan. 20 through Saturday, Simon, a multimillionaire, led the pack with $2.4 million, mostly in loans to himself. Riordan raised $2.1 million, while Jones collected $532,000.
Simon turned his financial advantage into a major advertising purchase on Thursday.
His campaign placed orders for more than $1 million in spots over the next week--with sources saying that is just the beginning of a stepped-up effort ahead of the March 5 primary. Simon also loaned his campaign an additional $1 million this week.
Simon's ads Thursday came in response to a spot Riordan began airing 24 hours earlier. The Riordan ad took aim at the wealthy Pacific Palisades businessman by questioning Simon's business acumen and involvement with a failed savings and loan.
Although the airwaves were thick with activity Thursday, two of the three major Republican candidates stayed largely out of view.
Simon had no public events, and Jones scheduled an event near a San Jose fund-raiser featuring Vice President Dick Cheney, but canceled it due to scheduling difficulties.
Riordan, meanwhile, campaigned at a conference of electrical power traders at a resort outside Palm Springs.
"If you make too much on the backs of the public, it's not good policy," Riordan told the group, adding that he would seek to renegotiate some of the contracts that the Davis administration entered into with power suppliers.
"It's certainly not being a good citizen, and I think it's not even good business in the long run for your companies," he said.
On the airwaves, the new Simon ad capitalized on Riordan's past support of Democrats, an issue that has dogged the former mayor throughout the Republican primary campaign.
The ad opens with an image of Riordan and President Bill Clinton jogging together, as a male announcer quotes the former mayor calling Clinton "the greatest leader of the free world."
Simon then addresses the camera. "There sure are some differences between myself and Dick Riordan," the candidate says.
"I'm a conservative Republican. My political heroes are Ronald Reagan, President Bush and Rudy Giuliani--certainly not Bill Clinton."
Simon's parting line is: "Unlike Dick Riordan, I'm not ashamed to be a Republican."
Simon's consultant, Sal Russo, said the new 30-second spot is the first in a series.
The Riordan campaign responded by ignoring Simon's charges and reiterating its criticisms of Simon's voting record and his business history.
The spate of television advertising has been paid for by a flurry of fund-raising that has gained in intensity as the race has apparently tightened.
The reports show that Riordan spent $5.8 million from Jan. 1 through Saturday, the end of the latest reporting period. Of that, almost $4.5 million went for advertising, or about 77% of his expenditures during that period.
Simon reported campaign expenses of $4.9 million during the same period, with almost $3.1 million going to air or produce television ads.
Riordan's most recent report further illustrates the maverick Republican's diverse base.
One of Riordan's major donors, for instance, is a prominent Hollywood executive who usually supports Democratic causes.
Television syndication pioneer Michael King of CBS Enterprises gave Riordan $50,000. King, who made a fortune with his brother Roger syndicating "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy," has contributed more than $200,000 to the Democratic Party.
Billionaire Jerrold Perenchio, chairman of Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, gave Riordan $250,000 in the latest period. Perenchio has also been a leading contributor to Davis.
Riordan also raised $150,000 from 15 insurance companies that gave $10,000 apiece.
In contrast to Riordan's contributions, which came from an array of sources, Simon was the largest single contributor to his own campaign, loaning $1.72 million during the most recent period. That brought his total loans to himself to $4 million, which increased to $5 million with the money he added this week.
Some of Simon's largest campaign contributors are relatives and friends from the New York-New Jersey area, where his father, former Treasury Secretary William Simon, built the family's investment business.
Jones, a rancher from the Central Valley, is drawing many of his larger contributions from agricultural interests and Central Valley residents.
His largest contribution during the recent period was a $50,000 donation from the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Jones, who has struggled to keep up with the other Republicans in raising money, is the only candidate in recent weeks who has been unable to engage in extensive television advertising.
Instead, he sent a letter to Republican voters from former Gov. George Deukemjian, also questioning Riordan's loyalty to the GOP.
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak and Michael Finnegan and researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Fund-Raising in the Race for Governor
Democratic Gov. Gray Davis maintained his commanding lead in campaign cash during the last month. With more loans to his campaign, businessman Bill Simon Jr. gained ground on former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in fund-raising for the March 5 Republican primary.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS
Cash on hand: $28,614,332
Stephen L. Bing, $100,000
Fox Group, $100,000
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, $52,078
Haim Saban, $50,000
Walt Disney Co., $50,000
Cash on hand: $778,677
A. Jerrold Perenchio, $250,000
Mark C. Johnson, $57,500
Jeffrey McDermott, $51,910
Fletcher Jones Motorcars, $50,000
Michael King, $50,000
BILL SIMON JR.
Cash on hand: $677,686
William E. Simon Jr., $1,724,255
Julie Simon Munro, $30,000
Lawrence E. Bathgate, $25,000
Helen Lho, $25,000
J. Peter Simon, $25,000
SECRETARY OF STATE BILL JONES
Cash on hand: $1,306,772
California Farm Bureau Federation PAC, $50,000
Sierra Tel Communications, $36,080
Piazza Partners, $30,000
Ghilotti Brothers Inc., $20,000
Peterson Co., $20,000
Sources: Campaign finance reports filed with California Secretary of State
Note: Campaign contributions and spending for the period Jan. 20 through Feb. 16. Cash on hand as of Feb. 16.