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'Fight' seen in California's governor's race

Simon: "I think Gray Davis is in for the fight of his life."  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- In the wake of his unexpected, come-from-behind victory in the California GOP gubernatorial primary, conservative businessman Bill Simon disputed the notion that his win over a more moderate candidate hurts Republican prospects for unseating Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in November.

"I think Gray Davis is in for the fight of his life. I think it's going to be a good, spirited campaign," Simon said in an interview Wednesday on CNN's "Inside Politics."

"We'll just see what happens come this November in terms of who's out of step with who."

Simon, a political newcomer and the son the late William Simon, who was treasury secretary under President Ford, carried more than 49 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary, easily beating former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who took 31 percent, and Secretary of State Bill Jones, who took 17 percent.

Riordan, a moderate who remains popular after serving two terms leading the nation's second-largest city, was recruited into the race by President Bush and the White House political team in the belief that his views would play well among independent and moderate Golden State voters this fall. He was also expected to run well in the vote-rich Los Angeles basin.

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But Simon -- a conservative who opposes abortion and supports gun rights and the death penalty -- came roaring from the right in the final weeks, playing to the Republican faithful. He was helped by Davis, who spent more than $10 million on an ad campaign targeting Riordan, a move the former mayor blasted as an effort by the governor to handpick the weaker candidate for the general election.

But Davis defended his decision to launch the ad campaign against Riordan, saying he did so after Riordan began to attack his record.

"If you say nothing, people will believe the charge. So this notion that you have to wait until the Republican primary is over before you can respond I think is a little antiquated," he said in an interview Wednesday.

In the end, Riordan carried Los Angeles County by 8 percentage points. But Simon ran well ahead in the Republican strongholds of Orange and San Diego counties and carried every other county in the state except for five around Fresno that were carried by Jones, who is from Fresno.

Independent voters could have voted in the Republican primary, which the Riordan campaign thought would help him. But exit poll data from the Los Angeles Times showed that 95 percent of the voters in the GOP primary were Republicans and only 5 percent were independents.

About 60 percent of the voters described themselves as conservative, and Simon carried that group by a 3-to-1 margin. He also won by 20 points among women, another group Riordan, who supports abortion rights, had hoped to capture.

"Of course there is some disappointment because of the view here that Mayor Riordan was the right candidate for the general election," said a senior White House official.

"But Simon ran a great campaign and stayed disciplined and focused, and you have to applaud that," the official added.

Bush called Simon Wednesday to congratulate him and offer support for the race against Davis. The president is expected to travel to California shortly to campaign for Simon.

Davis: "Bill Simon's vision of the cuture is totally out of step...with Californians."  

Davis faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary, carrying 80 percent of the vote. Despite the state's Democratic leaning, however, the three leading Republican candidates together garnered more votes than the governor.

As the eight-month general election campaign began Wednesday, the two candidates started to stake out the ground on which they plan to fight.

Simon indicated he will go after Davis' record as governor, including his handling of the state's power crisis, which was triggered by an effort to deregulate electricity, and an expanding budget deficit. He said he plans to make improving education a key part of his platform and has said he will not emphasize social issues such as abortion, gun control and the death penalty.

But if Simon doesn't want to emphasize his conservative social positions, Davis made it clear Wednesday that he will.

"Bill Simon's vision of the future is totally out of step and out of sync with Californians. He is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-voucher, pro- our crazy [power] deregulation scheme and pro-privatization. This is not Californians' vision of the future," Davis said.

Davis also said Simon, who has never held political office before, is an "unknown commodity" that voters could not trust to run California, the nation's most populous state.

In other results Tuesday, voters defeated an initiative that would have relaxed the state's stringent term limits on legislators. Almost 58 percent of voters opted to keep the current limits approved in 1990 -- three, two-year terms for members of the Assembly and two, four-year terms for members of the Senate.

In the 18th Congressional District in the Central Valley east of San Francisco, embattled Democratic Rep. Gary Condit was defeated for his party's nomination by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, ending a congressional career that began in 1989. (Full story)

In the 39th Congressional District in southeastern Los Angeles County, Linda Sanchez -- the sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County -- won the Democratic nomination for a newly created open seat. (Full story)

Because the district is heavily Hispanic and Democratic, Linda Sanchez is heavily favored to win in November, which could mean two sisters sitting in Congress together from the same state.

And in Orange County, Superior Court Judge Ronald Kline, under house arrest after being charged with child molestation and possessing child pornography, was forced into a runoff for his seat when 11 write-in candidates collected 67 percent of the vote.

Kline, whose name was the only one that appeared on Tuesday's ballot, won only 33 percent of the vote, far short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Elections officials are still counting the write-in votes to see which of the 11 candidates Kline will face.

Kline is facing federal charges of possessing child pornography and state charges of child molestation, stemming from alleged incidents in the late 1970s. He has denied the charges.

CNN's Judy Woodruff, Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley and Kate Snow contributed to this report.




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