Calif. Gov. Davis launches ad campaign

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO -- In his first paid TV ads of the recall campaign, Gov. Gray Davis has left it to a far more popular California Democrat -- his one-time rival, Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- to plead his case.

The two Davis campaign commercials, previewed for reporters Tuesday, do not mention Davis by name, and they show only one, tiny photo of the governor that appears only briefly at the bottom of the screen.

In the ads, Feinstein urges voters to turn down the recall and let the governor continue to do his job.

"The governor deserves the chance to keep working on issues we care about like education, health care and important new privacy legislation," Feinstein says in one ad.

In both ads Feinstein, who fought off a recall as mayor of San Francisco, warns that a recall would lead to instability and uncertainty.

The ads not only give Davis support from the state's most popular politician, but offer proof that the two have repaired their rocky relationship, stemming from Davis' negative campaign against Feinstein for the Democratic nomination for Senate. In an ad during that race he compared her to Leona Helmsley, the New York hotel owner and tax cheat.

Davis campaign director Steve Smith said he doubts Davis' name had been deliberately left out of the ads. He said Feinstein had written the scripts herself and wanted to present the case against recall in her own words.

"This was the senator essentially talking about why she's against the recall," Smith said. "It certainly wasn't a conscious decision on our part. I doubt it was a conscious decision on hers."

But observers said the omission signaled a clear choice by the campaign to divert focus from the embattled governor, whose popularity ratings have hovered in the low 20s in recent polls.

"I think it's a huge concession on the governor's part to allow Dianne Feinstein to go on the air with an ad that doesn't name him," said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. "When your numbers are where his are, the best commercial you could do would be to talk about the recall itself and the damage that could be caused by it."

The commercials, set to debut in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Monterey on Wednesday, will be part of an initial $1 million purchase of ad time.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, running to replace Davis if he is recalled, has spent about $1.4 million on campaign commercials so far -- the only other candidate to put any significant amount into TV ads.

Smith said he expects the Davis campaign to run commercials throughout the remaining five weeks of the campaign. But he said the heavy news media interest in the race has reduced the need for advertising.

"There is so much free media attention being spent on this campaign that the paid advertising is really a reflection of a bounce off of free media coverage, rather than what usually happens, which is the reverse," Smith said.

In other recall campaign developments Tuesday:

-- Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante picked up more support for his gubernatorial campaign when the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians announced it was contributing $2 million. The tribe runs a lucrative casino, and Bustamante is a longtime supporter of Indian gambling.

-- Davis and several of the top replacement candidates spent the day preparing for a televised debate on Wednesday. Schwarzenegger has turned down an invitation to appear at the forum, prompting criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.

-- Schwarzenegger released the text of a new television commercial targeting special interests and was preparing to deliver a speech Wednesday on broad themes at California State University, Long Beach.

-- One of the Republican hopefuls, former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, dismissed the heavy media attention being paid to Schwarzenegger's campaign as "noise and hoopla."

"As voters see this end of noise and all the hoopla and the rest, they're going to realize that the state of California is in deep trouble and they're going to try and find somebody who has the experience in crisis management," he said.

He also told Los Angeles radio station KFI that he hopes to spend about $10.6 million -- the voluntary spending limit -- on his campaign, and plans to contribute about a third of that himself.

He sidestepped questions about whether he would drop out of the race if polls close to the election show him and other Republicans splitting their vote and opening the way for Bustamante to win. In polls he has trailed fellow Republicans Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock, who appeals to the party's conservative wing.

Ueberroth said he believes he can draw support from a wide spectrum of voters, including Democrats, Republicans and independents.

"I could make a case for another candidate to drop out who has only Republican votes," he said, though he did not name anyone. "Basically, I think I'm going to draw right in the middle and they're going to ask me to do the job."

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