CA gubernatorial candidates shrug off image plights

SACRAMENTO, CA: Being disliked by nearly two-thirds of the state apparently doesn't faze the top two candidates for California's governor.

SACRAMENTO, CA: Being disliked by nearly two-thirds of the state apparently doesn't faze the top two candidates for California's governor.

Numerous statewide polls show Gov. Gray Davis (D) and challenger Bill Simon (R) have an image deficiency on their hands. Between 60% and 65% of voters from both parties would prefer other candidates.

"Part of (the dislike) is systemic," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute of Politics and Media at California State University at Sacramento. "There's been a building lack of regard for politicians since Watergate. But neither of these candidates, for whatever reason, has come across as warm and fuzzy. Voters don't perceive either as people who are like them, nor would they like to be like (Davis or Simon)."

When the moderator at a recent debate asked the candidates about their unpopularity, both shrugged it off.

"It's because the people of California have not heard my message in great regard," said Simon, adding that "these polls, yes, they're interesting, but the only poll that counts is the one on November 5."

That attitude is inherent in Davis' campaign, where image isn't an issue, said Dan Weintraub, political columnist for The Sacramento Bee.

Weintraub explained, "He's a disciplined tactician, not a people person." Voters are also upset with Davis for his slow response to the energy crisis and economic downturn.

Simon's popularity is low because "Davis has run millions of dollars in ads bashing Simon, and Simon hasn't done much to give people a positive image."

The campaigns' managers haven't focused much on image because their job is about winning a campaign, and getting voters to the polls, said O'Connor.

Davis doesn't need to come across as likable, because he has more money than Simon in a Democratic state. And Simon has been playing defense for much of his campaign, responding to Davis' ads and public embarrassments.

"One thing I learned in Vietnam, you just have to play the cards you're dealt," said Davis, in the debate.

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