In March the race for the governor of California, the most populous state, is going to heat up.

Gray Davis is ripe for defeat in November. His performance as governor stank. When elected over three years ago, he seemed invincible, a rising star in the Democratic Party – a future contender for president. He won almost 60 percent of the vote and had many groups that generally back Republicans giving him financial support. The state had a record surplus and he was going to be the education governor.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The surplus turned into a deficit, thanks to “Grey Out” Davis’ handling of the energy crisis. He didn’t fix the problem – he made it worse. Davis received over $200,000 in campaign contributions by Enron! When someone asked if he was going to return the money, he refused to answer the question and only said he wasn’t accepting any more.

There are three Republicans vying to unseat “Grey”: Secretary of State Bill Jones, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and former U.S. attorney and financier Bill Jones. Only one of the candidates can win an election against the well-financed Davis. That man is former L.A. mayor Riordan; even if Bill Jones and Bill Simon have made it an interesting race.

To his credit, Jones is the only one of the three that has run in and won a statewide election. Voters overwhelmingly elected him to be their secretary of state twice. He was the only Republican to win in 1998, when California’s Democrats took over the other statewide offices and two-thirds of both legislatures. Jones has run a good race and has been effective in the debates. Of the three, he is the most moderate. Jones has the political will and some of the necessary support, but he ain’t got the dough, and as big daddy Jesse Unruh said, “Money is the mother’s milk of California politics.” He currently stands tied for third with Bill Simon.

Multimillionaire Simon, on the other hand, has plenty of money and some of the political backing, yet he lacks political stature within California. His campaign seems stagnant and lacks the needed interest to win. Simon is the most socially conservative of the three opponents and has the support of traditional right-wing advocacy groups. Not a lot of other people are interested, though. On the campaign trail, Simon is often greeted with only a handful of people when he speaks. In some instances, Simon’s staffers outnumber the audience. It seems the luster to the Simon campaign is the support of his former fellow U.S. prosecutor, former New York City mayor and Time’s Man of the Year Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani’s support has given Simon a major bump up in the polls, although he still lags substantially behind Riordan. It won’t be enough.

As for Dick Riordan, recent polls indicate he will probably win the primary. He maintains an overwhelming lead in the polls over his two fellow Republicans. “Grey Out” Davis has seen fit to initiate a major political attack with carpet commercial advertising in all major markets of California. Apparently, Mr. Davis would rather see Simon or Jones win the Republican nomination.

Riordan maintains a lead of 3 to 7 percent over Davis. The television ads are already fairly nasty and they are going to get nastier. The governor is clearly fighting for his political life. The man who was the prince of the Democratic National Convention in 2000 now faces unemployment.

There has been some grumbling by California Republican rank and file regarding Riordan’s support for Democratic candidates. And yes, he supports a woman’s right to choose. Also, he has financially supported Democratic candidates. None of this sits well with many in the California GOP, but he can defeat Davis in November.

Riordan has widespread support in vote-rich southern California and he was successful in running our nation’s largest city for eight tumultuous years. It will be Dick Riordan who will provide the voters with an alternative to the failed leadership of Davis.

Michael C. Warnken is a senior business economics major.