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With Gray Davis vulnerable, Republicans asks, Where's W?

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Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2001 10:00 pm

Where's W? Just last summer, George W. Bush was right here in downtown Lodi addressing a crowd estimated at 11,000 supporters.

During his campaign, Bush traveled up and down California hoping to carry the state. Bush spent $22 million in California but lost by 13 points to Al Gore who didn't spend a dime.

As a result, according to insiders in the Bush camp, the president feels that California is a snake pit for him. Joe Guzzardi

Since his election, Bush has visited 25 states but California isn't one of them. Bush has sent his wife, Laura, to Los Angeles for a photo-op at an inner-city school but he has been out of sight.

Bill Clinton, by comparison, made eight trips to California during his first year as president.

Bush doesn't even have California penciled into his schedule for later in the year.

Democrats are crowing that Bush has already written off California for 2004. Key Bush political aide Karl Rowe said any talk of Bush ignoring California is nonsense.

But California Republicans are growing more concerned each day. Close advisers to Bush say the president is under heavy pressure to go to California to at least build a base for the congressional elections in 2002.

With Secretary of State Bill Jones the only statewide elected Republican, the party has a lot of work to do to catch up to the Democrats. Maybe too much work for Bush to bother with, according to some sources.

And Democrats and Republicans speculate that Bush is keeping his distance from California because he doesn't want to get embroiled in the energy mess. Bush perceives California's power crisis as a no-win situation.

"It's a California problem, created by Californians and affecting only Californians. Let California solve it," a Department of Energy spokesman said.

But how much longer can Bush stay out of California?

The Republican Party in California needs to be rebuilt and who better to do it than the president?

The state is the home of many major donors to the Republican Party. Their continued support is considered vital.

The to-do caused by Bush traveling to smaller states while leaving California in the lurch has caused Rowe to develop a laundry list of reasons why the President hasn't come to the Golden State.

According to Rowe, Bush has been busy in states which were likely to support his tax-cut plan. And, continued Rowe, a West Coast swing is three days out of the Bush schedule as opposed to a day trip to Ohio.

The unhappy consensus among state Republican leaders is that a Bush visit, now or anytime in the near, future, is pointless.

Jim Brulte, the Republican leader in the state Senate, told the New York Times, "It would be premature for Bush to come out until we have a plan which is in the process of being developed."

What the plan might be is anyone's guess.

Democrats dominate California. Gov. Gray Davis, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are Democrats. Both the California delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Legislature are largely Democratic.

Unexpectedly, however, a small ray of light has appeared. Davis, whose re-election seemed a certainty just a few weeks ago, is suddenly vulnerable.

Because of the fumbling and bumbling way Davis handled the energy crisis, his popularity has plunged. The likelihood is that Davis will be even less popular if the summer produces rolling blackouts (or worse) throughout the state.

Only Secretary of State Jones has announced his plan to challenge Davis. But Jones will never win Bush's endorsement. During the presidential primaries, Jones supported Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Bush has a much grander idea for a Davis replacement. With the blessing of chief adviser Rowe, two California investment bankers, Brad Freeman and Gerald Parsky, met recently with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger .

In the meeting, Freeman and Parsky tested the water to see how Schwarzenegger's feels about running.

In past years, Schwarzenegger has dismissed the idea. He has all the money and fame he could ever hope for and didn't want the headaches. And Schwarzenegger didn't think his personal life could withstand the inevitable attacks.

But that was when Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House. Now, with a Republican president, Schwarzenegger is rethinking.

The White House couldn't be happier.

"That would be nice," Rove said. "That would be really nice. That would be really, really nice."

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.

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