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Reader Offers a Sound Idea for Governor’s Race

Sacramento-- In this nutty election season, a Times reader offers a sane suggestion: Stop the gubernatorial race.

It’s not a race anyway. It’s a one-sided mud-wrestle. Close it down.

Republican Bill Simon Jr. should crawl out of the muck, grab a white towel and wave it. Concede three weeks early.

Gov. Gray Davis then should cancel his multimillion-dollar buy of mud-slinging attack ads and donate the money to the state’s strapped general fund.

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But, here, read the e-mail for yourself from the reader, Denny Freidenrich of Laguna Beach:

"[Simon’s] an embarrassment to the political process in general and the Republican Party in particular.

“Not only should he fire the aide [who plotted Simon’s false fund-raising charge against Davis], he should fire himself. He should immediately drop out of the race ....

“Without needing to spend millions on TV commercials, Davis should pledge to [give] half his campaign war chest to the state’s general fund. This translates into about $10 million for food for needy kids, help for disabled seniors, more teacher aides in classrooms, etc.”

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It’s the most interesting, unrealistic idea of the campaign. So I called the e-mailer.

Freidenrich, 54, turns out to be a lifelong Democrat who plans to vote for Davis. “But would I put up a ‘Davis for Governor’ sign in my frontyard? Probably not.” He has voted Republican before and praises President Bush.

He owns a consulting firm, First Strategies, that does PR, marketing and fund-raising for private and public agencies.

If Simon capitulated, Freidenrich notes, Davis could “do something noble .... Give [money] back to the folks of California. Feed hungry children ....

“That would really be a photo op. What a photo op!”

This is legally possible, even if politically improbable -- especially for a money hoarder like Davis. It’s legal to use political funds for a “governmental purpose.”

Here are other options for spending Davis’ surplus:

* Donate it to charity.

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* Give it to the Democratic Party. (Help shore up his wobbly base.)

* Return it to donors.

* Bankroll a nonprofit group that would build a much-needed governor’s residence near the Capitol. (Leave a legacy to be exalted on every visitor’s tour.)

One problem with Freidenrich’s visionary suggestion, of course, is that Simon shows no inclination to quit.

“We have a strong chance of winning,” he still insisted Thursday.

Nobody else I’ve talked to -- in or out of his campaign -- feels that way.

“Any Republican with any brains can see if they don’t do something, they’re headed for a complete disaster in which all Republicans lose [on the statewide ticket],” says political analyst Tony Quinn, a onetime GOP staffer.

“It’s going to take something like a Riordan write-in to put enthusiasm back into this election.”

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Former Mayor Richard Riordan, beaten badly in the GOP primary, is hinting at a write-in candidacy. A Field poll six weeks ago showed Riordan trouncing Davis by 15 points in a hypothetical matchup.

But the White House and Riordan’s allies are urging him not to jump in unless Simon withdraws. The deadline for becoming a write-in is Oct. 22.

“It’s ghoulish, but Simon’s motto for the rest of the campaign should be, ‘Death with dignity,’ ” says Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College and former national GOP official.

Exactly. If he stays in, Simon at least should run a positive campaign, talking solely about issues critical to California. But that’s not the plan. He has begun airing a new TV ad again attacking Davis’ ethics.

“It’s much easier to make someone dislike somebody than make them like somebody,” says veteran Simon strategist Ed Rollins. “This is why a lot of negative campaigning has been effective over the years.”

Sure. But every voter must already know that Davis holds the all-time gubernatorial record for hitting up special

interests. Anyway, Simon’s credentials as the messenger of that non-news just fell into the toilet.

Conversely, most people already realize that Simon is in way over his head. Davis has spent many millions trashing him on TV. The anti-Simon message, I suspect, really is boring viewers.

Call me naive, but positive ads by Davis and Simon might be uplifting and increase voter turnout. And the smiley spots could spiff up both their muddied images.

However, if Simon adopted Freidenrich’s plan, he also could help himself financially. He could take back some of the $4 million he recently loaned his campaign.

And Davis could get the most for his money politically by giving it to disabled folks or school kids. Yep, what a photo op.

But that would be too sane for politics.


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