LOS ANGELES — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon launched his first television and radio ads of the general election campaign Tuesday — in Spanish.
Leaving unanswered for now an English-language attack ad Democratic Gov. Gray Davis launched a week ago, Simon is instead taking to the airwaves across the state to court a constituency that tends to vote solidly Democratic.
The 30-second spot criticizing Davis’ education record and proclaiming Simon’s focus on schools began airing throughout the state on Spanish-language powerhouses Univision and Telemundo as well as cable network Galavision and two radio stations.
Simon speaks in Spanish at the end of the ad, saying, “The future of California depends on our children, yours and mine.”
“The Latino community is an extraordinarily high priority of this campaign. We’re confident we can break recent records in receiving support from the Latino community,” said chief Simon strategist Sal Russo in unveiling the ad at a Sacramento press conference.
“I think that coming out with your first foot forward being a Spanish-language media buy touting your record on education and speaking a little Spanish, that’s clever, it’s astute,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which studies Latino voting.
“It’s a symbolic buy that sends an important message of inclusion and tolerance, and it signals to the English-speaking world, ’Hey, I’m not who you think I am.’ ”
President Bush, who enjoyed good relations with Hispanics as governor of Texas, has personally championed Latino voter outreach efforts and Republican candidates nationwide have been following his lead.
Bush worked hard to woo Hispanics in the 2000 election and got about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide and 28 percent in California. Republicans have had a difficult history in the state, in part because of GOP backing for anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994.
But Gonzalez said that the bulk of Hispanic voters are up for grabs for the right candidate.
Russo said he hopes Simon, a conservative businessman who’s making his first run for public office, will “greatly exceed” Bush’s 2000 showing in California. He cited Simon’s background in charity work as appealing to the Latino community.
Davis press secretary Roger Salazar dismissed Simon’s potential strength with Hispanic voters.
“I think the Latino community has heard these types of empty promises from Republicans before and they understand that substance is more important than a small television ad,” he said, adding that the governor plans an extensive Spanish-language media campaign of his own.
Davis, whose $30 million campaign treasury dwarfs Simon’s, spent millions in the last two weeks on airtime for the ad attacking Simon’s business record as well as two positive spots that went on the air June 5.
Television commercials are considered key to reaching voters in sprawling California but they are costly, more so on English- than Spanish-language stations.