California's Davis Goes on the Attack

Going negative is something most political candidates do, but they don't want to be labeled the first to do it.

That didn't stop California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from approving an attack ad against Republican opponent Bill Simon's business record.

The 30-second ad, which appeared in Los Angeles, Sacramento and the Central Valley, accuses Simon, a novice politician but well-established businessman, of botching the Western Federal Savings and Loan, which was bailed out by the government in 1993 at a cost to taxpayers of more than $90 million.

"Bill Simon inherited a fortune. But how has he managed on his own? When he directed a savings and loan, the thrift made bad loans, went belly up and was seized by the federal government. ... If he can't run an S&L, how can he run California?" the ad asks.

Simon's camp calls the ad "pretty bunk," saying that the federal government asked the Simon family and others to help capitalize the S&L and then changed the regulations, leading to the S&L's collapse.

Jamie Fisfis, a spokesman for the Simon campaign, said the content of the ad was already used by Republican Richard Riordan in the primary campaign and criticized for being "misleading and not accurately reflecting" the course of events that led to the Western Federal's collapse.

"Our outlook, from a campaign perspective is 'been there done that,'" Fisfis said. "Riordan ran almost the same ads and it had nearly zero impact" on the campaign.

Simon has frequently accused Davis of mismanagement of the state's finances, turning a $12 billion surplus into a $25 billion deficit.

"Gray Davis is attempting to deflect public attention from his own incompetence and corrupt administration of California by attacking me today," Simon told reporters after an appearance before the Greenlining Institute, a public policy center.

But Davis campaign press secretary Roger Salazar said that if Simon wants to attack Davis' financial management he better be prepared for a taste of his own medicine.

"If he wants to claim that the governor's been mismanaging California, then people have a right to see how he's managed his own affairs," Salazar said.

Simon, whose fund-raising is dwarfed by Davis' more than $30 million campaign treasury, has only run four introductory television commercials — considered key to reaching voters in sprawling California.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.