Will Gray Davis run for president if he wins a second term as governor of California? Davis punted on this question in Monday's debate with Bill Simon. Davis hemmed and hawed but finally couldn't rule out the possibility of a run for another office. "I am not making a commitment," he said.
Asked if he had ever accepted a political contribution at a state office building or any of his offices, Davis just didn't answer the question. He ignored it, then whined at length about Simon's lack of "ethics."
Davis's evasion of the question indicates that the answer is yes. But the panelists -- two liberals from the Los Angeles Times and a liberal from a Bay Area television station -- let the evasion slide. They had more weighty matters to probe, such as "global warming."
The debate had a pro-forma, phoned-in quality to it. The 59-minute format was absurd. The candidates usually had about thirty seconds or a minute to answer highly involved public policy questions. Davis, who's clearly just running out the clock, padded his answers with poll-tested blather. His "mother" taught him this, his experience in "Vietnam" taught him that, etc., etc. At one point, he noted that he had been on Jay Leno "not once, but twice."
Simon's performance was competent enough. But will it make an impression? Probably not. The press is likely to describe the debate as a dull draw. Because Davis refused a prime-time slot, the debate aired at noon, so few people will have seen it.
Davis's strategy is to show himself in the flesh to voters as infrequently as possible. He is content to buy the election via the airwaves.
He seems aware at some level that he is fundamentally unlikable, and doesn't mind if people think unfavorably of him just so long as they don't take his power away. "My job is not to win a popularity contest, it's to lead this state," he said, ignoring that one of the primary sources of his unpopularity is that he has led the state into a series of crises.
Californians get neither competence nor charisma from Davis, just a lot of excuses. Asked about the education crisis in the state, Davis replied by talking about the "years of neglect" under his predecessors. Asked about the energy crisis, he blamed Enron -- never mind that he had accepted $120,000 from the company and, as Simon pointed out, never gave it back.
Without a clear record to justify a second term, Davis has had to shift gears and argue that he deserves to win simply because he is a liberal who likes abortion and dislikes guns. The state of Ronald Reagan apparently cannot abide a Republican, according to Davis. He took several pot shots at the Simon family, referring to Simon as "a son of the first family of the far right."
"In his heart he is pro-gun, in his heart he is anti-choice, and I am just the opposite," said Davis. Isn't there a contradiction here? If Davis is pro-choice on abortion, why isn't he also pro-choice on guns?
Amazingly, given the composition of the journalists panel, no questions about abortion came up. But gun issues preoccupied the panel. Lefty George Skelton wanted to know if Simon would repeal gun laws. Simon answered that he, unlike Davis, would actually enforce them.
The crime rate is climbing in California, and the big issue in the state is gun control? The priorities of the press and Davis are ridiculous.
The state is drowning in debt, its schools rank at the bottom of the country, and all the while Davis is running for re-election on issues such as "assault weapons," "stem cell research," and "Roe v. Wade."
Monday's debate was as unfocused as the Davis administration.