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Davis defeats Simon in California, CNN projects


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SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Democratic Gov. Gray Davis defeated Republican Bill Simon on Tuesday in the race for the Golden State governor's office, CNN projects.

Simon's come-from-behind primary win over Richard Riordan in March made him an overnight darling of conservatives nationwide, many of whom promoted him as the next coming of Ronald Reagan. But Simon's challenge to Davis, a Democrat, has stalled since then -- partly because of Davis' bruising attacks, but mostly due to the Republican's political missteps.

Going into Election Day, Davis was seen as vulnerable because he has failed to connect with the state's mostly Democratic electorate and has mishandled the state's budget crisis. A recent Field Poll showed Davis' support continued to stand below 50 percent and his lead over Simon was only 7 points.

Simon, the son of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Bill Simon, was making his first campaign for public office. Republicans privately faulted Simon for mismanaging campaign staff and alienating voters he needed to win over, even within the GOP establishment. Simon's strategy of running on his business background was undercut in July by a $78 million civil fraud verdict levied against his family's investment firm.

Simon received much-needed good news in early September, however, when a judge threw out a lower court ruling that had found the family's firm, William E. Simon & Sons, had defrauded a business partner. He has sought to build on the bounce he got from the ruling, airing two new ads featuring testimonials from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and President Bush, who approved the use of his image in the ad after the court's ruling.

But the initial court ruling cost Simon precious weeks of campaigning. Party strategists also criticized reports that his firm used disputed offshore tax shelters and the way he handled releasing his tax returns last summer.

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