Businessman Bill Simon and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan were locked in a close race by the time the polls opened after a late catapult up the polls by Simon, a political rookie, who began closing in on Riordan during the final weeks of the campaign.
"I'll decide when I'm in the booth who I am going to vote for," Riordan joked to reporters after he cast his ballot in West Los Angeles. "It will be very close between Simon and me."
The mayor's quip aside, the election should be anything but a toss-up for GOP voters who have seen the race develop into a choice among clear-cut images.
The campaign strategies of Riordan, Simon and the third leading candidate, California Secretary of State Bill Jones, have left Riordan appearing to be a moderate pragmatist who is unable to stick to traditional party principles. Simon and Jones, on the other hand, have been painted as true conservatives, but may be too dogmatic to attract enough votes to unseat Democrat Gov. Gray Davis.
Analysts have predicted that a low turnout would help Simon since conservatives tend to be more committed to showing up at the polls. A higher turnout, it was predicted, would indicate more moderates had voted and that scenario would benefit Riordan.
"The important thing about this campaign is to retire Gray Davis and to improve California to allow the people of this great state to take part in the California dream that Davis has deprived us of in the past three years," declared Jones, who was running a distant third in the polls behind Simon and Riordan.
Davis faces no serious opposition in his quest for the nomination for a second term, and whoever wins the nomination will have to be prepared to go one-on-one against Davis until the November election.
All of the Republican contenders were expected to take part in the party's traditional "unity breakfast" held the morning after the primary vote at which time they will pledge to back the winner and to not split the party despite the fiery bluster of the final weeks of the campaign.
Conciliatory messages were already being sent Tuesday.
"It has been a good campaign," Simon said after voting in the upscale Los Angeles beach community of Pacific Palisades. "It has been a long campaign. I think it has been well fought and has good candidates. Now it is up to the voters."
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