GOP Conservative Surges In Calif. Governor's Race

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - California voters are for the first time giving GOP gubernatorial contender Bill Simon an edge in the polls, heading into the March 5 primary.

A Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters conducted between Feb. 20-24 showed likely voters evenly split between conservative businessman Simon and early favorite Richard Riordan, a politically moderate millionaire businessman and former Los Angeles mayor.

But a newly released poll by the Field Institute of San Francisco showed 37 percent of likely voters in the Republican primary favoring Simon, with 31 percent favoring Riordan. The Simon campaign says their internal polls show a 10 percent lead for their candidate.

However, when pitted against incumbent Democratic governor, Gray Davis, it's Riordan who would fare better against Davis, 46 to 40 percent respectively. While earlier polls showed Davis beating any of the GOP candidates, the new Field Institute poll shows Simon and fellow primary contender California Secretary of State Bill Jones almost even with the governor.

Despite Riordan's more liberal views on issues such as abortion, compared to Simon, Riordan has received some endorsements from prominent conservatives like Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.). Ironically, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani endorsed the more conservative Simon.

Election watchers say Riordan was probably hurt by Davis's $8 million advertising campaign that focused much attention and criticism on Riordan, leaving Simon unencumbered to woo GOP voters.

But Riordan isn't taking the drubbing lying down. He is airing a 30-second spot statewide that questions Simon's past investment in the failed Western Federal Savings and Loan, in which Simon's family reportedly lost $40 million. "Is he really ready for California's toughest job?" asks Riordan's ads.

Before deciding to run himself, Riordan is the one who lured Simon into the gubernatorial race.

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