LOS ANGELES – As the California governor's race heats up, incumbent Democrat Gray Davis is winning the money race, but losing ground in the polls.
"It's still Davis' race to lose, but it is becoming increasingly precarious for him," said political analyst Dan Schnur.
"He's Gray. He's boring, but he's safe. Bill Simon will be the risky candidate," said political analyst and Fox News contributor Susan Estrich.
Challenger Bill Simon, a former savings and loan executive and now an investment adviser, surprised many in March when he won the Republican primary against President Bush-backed former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Simon is again making waves, by showing unexpected strength against Davis.
Still, challenges remain.
"Bill Simon's biggest challenge now is that in an atmosphere where the corporate scandals have gotten so much attention, Simon's decision to run as a businessman-turned-politician creates difficulties for him," Schnur said.
"Gray Davis is going to tie Bill Simon to the corporate scandals as much as any candidate in the country," said Estrich.
Already, Davis has gone on the attack, painting Simon as responsible for the failure of the S&L on whose board he served, and as uninterested in politics. A recent Davis television ad says Simon didn't vote in 13 of 20 elections.
Nevertheless, Simon is gaining momentum. After trailing Davis in the polls last year, only briefly passing him before falling back, in the last three months, Simon has cut Davis' double-digit lead in the polls to seven points, in part with ads that depict Davis as a slave to special interests who is only interested in money.
Davis has a record $30 million in the bank, Simon just $5 million. But polls show 50 percent of voters have a negative opinion of Davis. 40 percent don't like Simon.
"What you have at this point in mid-July is mid-October disapproval ratings," Schnur said.
But Estrich said Davis does benefit from California's Democratic leanings.
45 percent of Californians are registered Democrats, 35 percent are Republican. That would mean Simon needs more than 1 million crossover Democrats or an overwhelming Republican turnout to beat Davis.
That's unlikely, say experts, but with 25 percent of all voters still undecided, the race is not over yet.