SACRAMENTO — Note to potential gubernatorial candidates in California: Those without tens of millions of dollars, or the ability to raise them, need not apply.
It’s a message shaped by recent campaigns in this sprawling state and buttressed by the massive amounts of money already being raised for the 2002 governor’s race.
More than a year before the general election, Gov. Gray Davis has already raised close to the $35 million he spent for his entire 1998 campaign.
Two wealthy Republican businessmen are also collecting contributions to challenge the Democratic incumbent, setting the stage for a race that could outspend the state’s previous, record-breaking gubernatorial campaign.
“We know in order to be a viable candidate, we certainly will have to be in Gray Davis’ ballpark,” said Bob Taylor, a campaign consultant for Los Angeles businessman William E. Simon Jr., a Republican candidate for governor.
According to recent campaign spending reports, Davis’ campaign treasury is on pace to reach more than $50 million by the November 2002 general election.
Davis’ advisers say he’ll need millions to fight any rich potential Republican opponent and also match the millions they expect the national GOP to spend to try to retake the office they held for 16 years before Davis’ 1998 victory.
The governor also is trying to rebuild his popularity weakened by the state’s electricity crisis. While the state has avoided rolling blackouts this summer, conflict of interest accusations have hit some of Davis’ energy advisers.
“We make no apology for getting prepared here to run what is going to be a hell’s-a-popping race where there will be massive resources aligned against us,” said Garry South, Davis’ top campaign adviser.
National Democrats are also expected to spend liberally in support of the top race in California, a Democratic stronghold and a cornerstone of the party’s bid to retake control of Congress.
The biggest variable so far is whether former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a wealthy Republican businessman able to spend millions of his own money, will run. He’s expected to decide in the fall.
“He’ll bring a lot more money to the table,” said Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, a public policy watchdog group.
Riordan spent about $6.3 million of his own money running for mayor of Los Angeles in 1993 and 1997. He also has been courted by President Bush, who can help him secure money from national Republicans.
With or without Riordan, the candidates in the race now have said they’ll spend tens of millions.
Simon is the son of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.
, who served presidents Nixon and Ford. He’s tapped into the Wall Street network both he and his father worked for years and raised $3.1 million in the first six months of the year. His goal is to collect at least $20 million.
“If he can’t raise a significant amount of money, he’s going to take a good hard look” at whether to stay in the +race+, Taylor said.
Secretary of State Bill Jones, also an announced GOP candidate, battled sagging support from Republicans in the first half of the year and raised less than $1 million, far less than what analysts said he’ll need.
As Davis and others raise money for 2002, California is chasing its own record set in 1998, when four candidates spent a combined $120 million.
That was the most expensive non-presidential race in the nation, said Ed Bender, research director for the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Mont.
Then, Davis was outspent in the primary by two wealthy Democrats — former airline executive Al Checchi, who spent $35 million largely of his own money and Rep. Jane Harman, who spent more than $20 million.
Since winning the primary and then beating Republican Dan Lungren in November, Davis hasn’t stopped raising money. He has won the support of a wide array of contributors including labor unions, special-interest groups and many corporate groups that traditionally support Republicans.
Some campaign finance analysts fear his fund-raising volume has increased the influence of special interests.
“Citizens have the perspective that elections are determined by special interest contributions and I think it is a major factor in generating voter apathy,” Knox said.
Davis’ energetic fund-raising also has some analysts sensing he’s preparing a 2004 presidential campaign.
“This governor’s campaign is not just about getting the gubernatorial seat again, it’s about positioning oneself for the presidential race two years after,” said DePaul University marketing professor Bruce Newman, a political marketing and campaign spending expert.
Davis’ ambitions aside, however, California is just an expensive state in which to run a statewide campaign. The nation’s most populous state has two of its largest television markets, which makes buying TV ad time expensive.
“A campaign for governor in this state is not unlike a campaign for president or for prime minister of a nation,” said Dave Puglia, a public relations consultant and campaign director for Lungren.
A statewide television ad — the medium which eats up the bulk of most modern American campaigns — can cost at least $1 million a week. Radio spots run up to $150,000 a week. Meaningful polls cost about $20,000 apiece. California’s diversity also complicates a campaign and raises its costs. Its 33 million residents live in diverse pockets that include the agricultural Central Valley, high-tech Silicon Valley, the traditionally liberal Bay Area, greater Los Angeles and its entertainment industry and the rapidly growing Inland Empire.
Campaigns in California, as well as nationwide, Newman said, have left behind the traditional volunteers networks, which have “all been taken over by the more sophisticated marketing campaign.”
So, the state that featured 2000’s most expensive House race — the $11.1 million spent by Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Jim Rogan — will continue as a national leader in expensive races.
“California’s unique in a lot of respects and I think campaign spending is one of them,” Bender said.
On the Net:
http://www.followthemoney.org contains a database on campaign spending in state races.