ROCKLIN — Bill Simon swept through Northern California Friday, rallying support in GOP strongholds and invoking memories of California’s favorite Republican at a factory for Jelly Bellys, Ronald Reagan’s favorite sweet.
With three days left to catch up to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and a new poll showing him seven points behind, Simon urged voters in Rocklin, Redding and Fairfield to the polls while he stepped up criticism of Davis’ fund-raising practices.
“Four more days and we will be done with the reign of Gray Davis!” he said at the Jelly Belly Candy Co. in Fairfield, midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. “My administration will be built upon sound public policy, not campaign contributions,” Simon said.
Behind him hung a Jelly Belly mosaic of Reagan. One of Simon’s ads uses Reagan’s famous line, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
Davis, who starts his own barnstorming tour Sunday, was in Los Angeles picking up the endorsement of Mayor James Hahn, a notable holdout when the governor announced a round of endorsements from the state’s mayors in August. Davis endorsed Hahn’s opponent in the mayoral election this year.
“Unlike previous governors, you have not balanced the state’s budget on the back of local governments. We appreciate that,” Hahn said in announcing his support with other city officials outside Los Angeles City Hall.
Davis lashed out at Simon and predicted victory, despite voter apathy about a campaign that has centered on mudslinging by two candidates who are both viewed unfavorably. A Friday Field Poll showed 25 percent of voters either remain undecided or plan to vote for minor party candidates or leave the ballot for governor blank.
“I really believe we’ve made progress in the face of a national recession and a terrible energy crisis. I believe we will see a substantial number of people coming out to the polls to vote for me because of the four good years we’ve had,” Davis said.
“I believe in paying your dues. My opponent wants to parachute right in,” he said.
Simon, his wife Cindy, campaign aides and reporters traveled in a Gulfstream 3 jet provided by GOP donor and real estate developer William Lyons. Simon mingled with voters at Marie Callendar’s in reliably Republican Redding and pumped up a lunchtime crowd gathered to see local conservative talk show host Eric Hogue in Rocklin, a Sacramento suburb.
Simon unleashed a new attack against Davis’ fund-raising practices, bringing up 14-year-old allegations of campaign improprieties that a former state official made against Davis when he was the state’s controller.
Former deputy attorney general Vincent Reagor wrote a 1988 memo urging prosecution of Davis for allegedly using state employees, time, facilities and equipment during his campaign to be controller. Reagor’s superiors did not prosecute for lack of evidence.
The allegations were reported then and two years later Reagor’s memo was reported.
The Republican Party has been trying for weeks to get reporters to write about the allegations. The party finally arranged a meeting between Reagor and a KCBS-TV Los Angeles reporter.
KCBS aired the story Thursday and Simon used that Friday, even as he sought to distance himself from the allegations and demurred when asked whether he believed Davis committed a crime.
“I’m not making any suggestions, no accusations, let me be very clear about that. The question is this. Mr. Davis, you owe the people of California an explanation, you owe the people of California an explanation for your pay-to-play practices,” he told reporters.
In Los Angeles, Davis said: “He’s got a lot of problems of his own. He is using this to deflect from his own lack of vision and the hot water that he is in.”
It’s the third time that Simon, a former federal prosecutor, has sought to link Davis to criminal behavior as he struggles to overcome the governor’s lead in fund-raising and polls.
Earlier this month Simon accused Davis of illegally accepting a campaign check in the state Capitol, but had to retract the claim when it was shown the photo Simon used as evidence was taken in Santa Monica.
Then Simon called on Davis to answer questions about decade-old allegations of impropriety made by a convicted felon, which were unsealed Monday by a federal judge. Prosecutors decided at the time, as in the Reagor case, not to pursue the allegations.
Simon repeatedly pushed reporters this week to focus on the allegations, but said he was not making accusations.
“There’s a distinction in my own mind between accusations and questions that get raised by other people,” he said.