Each man has failed where the other succeeded. George W. Bush resides in the White House; former Gov. Pete Wilson's 1995 foray into presidential politics didn't even last into the New Hampshire primary. Bush spent millions in an effort to carry California, but lost the state by 11 percentage points; Wilson, on the other hand, carried California in four statewide elections.
Still, both men are on the losing side when it comes to convincing Californians that they are the good guys on energy.
A July Public Policy Institute poll shows more voters blame Wilson and then- lawmakers for the state's energy woes than Gov. Gray Davis and the present solons. Also, 63 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the energy crisis, compared to 51 percent who disapprove of Davis' performance.
On Thursday, Wilson addressed the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute in San Francisco, where he defended the 1996 deregulation bill he signed -- the measure Gray Forces like to blame for blackouts and soaring electric bills. Wilson admitted there was a big flaw in the bill -- he said he swallowed the rate cap because the measure gave companies an incentive to build much-needed power plants. He pulled out state data: After he signed the bill, there was a steep rise in applications to build plants. Without that flawed bill, he said, California might have more blackouts.
You'll never hear that kind of talk from Bush League. Au contraire, Bush himself wrongly proclaimed that California "hadn't built a power plant in 12 years" last week. Bush is wrong. Energy companies built smaller plants because there were fewer regulatory hurdles.
No wonder the Bushies are losing the PR battle to Graydom. They think Wilson can bear the stain and it won't rub off on them.
And as Wilson noted, they even botched the president's visit to California in May, which they would have been wise to skip altogether. Davis, Wilson said, "bracketed them with an attack before the president came and with a news conference afterward, and boosted himself by about 10 points at the president's expense."
Wilson is appalled that Bush has not pushed for swifter Federal Energy Regulatory Commission action on price gouging.
At a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting Friday, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, underscored the message that Bushies aren't getting out. "It's been kind of funny to me. We come into office two years after Gov. Davis did. He claims he inherited the problem, and yet somehow we're to blame for it."
The Bush energy plan, by the way, proposes to close the supply-demand gap largely through conservation. But as Abraham noted, Team Bush gets beaten up every time someone says conservation alone won't remedy the problem. It's true, but too many observers, the secretary noted, "treat that statement as if it is a repudiation of any efforts on conservation."
Abraham argued that criticism for straight talk on conservation's limitations "begs the question: What's the other side?"
The other side is Gov. Davis, who is as fast with the right rhetoric as he was slow in pushing for new power plant construction. The other side is a state of voters who want you to talk up conservation, while they turn up their CD players. The other side opposes drilling in Alaska and has a bumper sticker on its SUV to prove it.
And Team Bush couldn't win this state, but Pete Wilson has -- four times.