Despite a campaign fraught with missteps and misjudgments, the White House refuses to step away from the mess that is the Bill Simon gubernatorial campaign in California. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney will travel this month to the Golden State, against advice from the California state Republican Party that they cancel those trips. The state party's recommendation came after reports in the California press that Simon's people failed to alert the White House (meaning Karl Rove) that a court ruling against Simon's investment company would likely be handed down at some point during the campaign. Last week a state court awarded plaintiffs $78 million in a case involving investment fraud, although Simon was never named in the suit and was not directly part of the litigation.
Gov. Gray Davis did everything he could to make sure the story went front page across the state. But the state GOP also did what it could to embarrass Simon, a candidate whom moderate party leaders don't like one bit. "Basically we got a call from the state GOP, they said the Simon situation was getting messier, that we should pull back and send a message to Republican candidates across the country: be honest with us or suffer the consequences," says a White House political staffer. "It wasn't a realistic recommendation, and kind of childish. But it just shows how bad things have gotten out there."
Simon's campaign has been wrangling with the White House and Gerald Parsky, Karl Rove's hand-picked man to run the California GOP. After the failure of Parsky's anti-conservative choice, Dick Riordan, to win the GOP nomination, Parsky found himself stuck with Simon, and the two have done little to cooperate. It was Parsky's staff that was telling California political reporters that Simon hadn't informed the White House about the potential court ruling.
But members of Simon's staff say that the state and the national party were both aware of Simon's business dealings and that Simon had presented both with information about ongoing legal issues. "You can't hide a lawsuit like this," says a Simon aide in Los Angeles. "And we didn't. It wasn't something we were going to put under a spotlight, but everybody knew about it. It's another example of what is wrong with California Republican Party."
From the White House perspective, there is little it can or can't do about what is becoming one of the most embarrassing races in the country. "We can't walk away from California. It's too important," says the White House staffer. "We have House seats to campaign for, 2004 to think about. Not going to the state is not an option. Avoiding Simon is not an option."
It is and it isn't. The White House yesterday wasted no time putting to rest California Republican Party spin that Bush and Cheney wouldn't be coming out. As soon as he packs his fly-fishing gear Cheney is headed to San Francisco, first to make a long-planned address on Wednesday to the business-friendly Commonwealth Club of California. Then he'll be off to central California to lend a fundraising hand to State Rep. Dick Monteith, who is seeking to fill the seat now held by Democrat Gary Condit.
There are no plans for Cheney to campaign with Bill Simon, however, this in keeping with concern expressed among Cheney staff last week that with both men seemingly weighed down by corporate accountability issues, there would be no upside to having them appear together.
"We have to keep Cheney out there," an RNC staffer adds, "or it just feeds into rumors about his health, his viability in 2004, you name it."
Meanwhile, Bush is expected to appear with Simon at least one more time this summer at campaign events in Southern California.
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