A few months back, the California Political Review reported that an unnamed Sacramento Democratic consultant had admitted to Gray Davis’s anemic appeal within his own party. The consultant said Democrat leaders underestimate “how much people dislike Gray Davis.” He noted that “no Democrat constituency group — African-Americans, labor, women, Hispanics, enviros —” was giving Davis “an approval rating exceeding 50 percent.”
“I don’t see how he gets there,” California Political Review quoted the veteran political strategist saying about Davis’s re-election chances. Democratic consultants are no less worried today, as several recent articles containing quotes from unnamed Democratic consultants reveal.
“I think the campaign has given up on getting people to like Gray,” a “prominent Democratic strategist” told the Contra Costa Times this week.
“Private polling appears to confirm the governor’s misfortunes,” reported the Contra Costa Times. “Sal Russo, the chief strategist for (Bill) Simon, said three recently conducted private polls indicate Simon is leading by anywhere from 1 percentage point to 9 percentage points.”
The Contra Costa Times reported that the Davis campaign “disputed those numbers,” saying “internal campaign polling shows Davis with a single-digit lead.” But this is hardly a reassuring rebuttal for Davis supporters. Moreover, Davis’s attack ad against Simon last week was a tacit admission that his poll numbers are poor.
Last week, San Francisco Chronicle columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross quoted a Democratic consultant who said “Simon could win this.” The consultant said that the “real problem is that Davis has turned off even fellow Democrats, who should be his natural base.”
All the polls, wrote Matier and Ross, show that “Davis is in a world of trouble with voters.” The columnists cite one poll which “showed a whopping 50 percent giving Davis an ‘unfavorable’ job performance rating.” They then quote a Democrat who says “that’s usually considered terminal,” and a Democratic consultant who reports, “I’ve seen other polls that show an even lower performance rating.”
Simon, meanwhile, isn’t cooperating with Davis’s repeated attempts to demonize him as a conservative extremist. On the issue of offshore oil drilling, Simon has managed to beat past Davis on the left. Simon noted that he is staunchly opposed to offshore oil drilling, whereas Davis has permitted the number of drilling leases to increase during his first term. Simon is also pushing a $1 billion park bond measure.
Transparent triangulation? Sure. But with Simon staking out such positions on the left, Davis knows that he will look like a fool if he continues to act as if he is running against Le Pen. So he has shifted to Strategy B: discredit Simon personally. Hence his first attack ad addressed not Simon’s supposed conservatism, but his business dealings.
The Davis people have been fishing around for some time. But the best they could come up with is a Simon family S&L problem, which even liberal media outlets found uncompelling. Sacramento Bee political editor Amy Chance, for example, said the attack ad “oversimplifies” the issue.
The ad reflected not so much Davis’s worries about Simon’s mismanagement as his own. He has saddled Californians with a $24 billion deficit, yet somehow has to find a way to run on his “record.” This will require more finesse than his cloddish personality permits him. A polished liar, with endearing human qualities, could probably get away with it, especially against a low-key opponent. But Davis is seen as a soulless dork without even the compensating virtues of frugality and efficiency.
The Los Angeles Times ran an article last Saturday saying that Simon “faces pressure to follow Davis’ lead and go on attack.” But why bother? Simon may figure. If what Democratic consultants are whispering to reporters is true, why waste punches on an opponent who is defeating himself?
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