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California Governor Goes on Offensive in Recall Battle - 2003-08-22

California's embattled governor, Gray Davis, has gone on the offensive to fight the recall effort to remove him from office. Californians will decide October 7 if Mr. Davis should be ousted and, if so, who should replace him. The state official may also be coming to terms with a fellow Democrat who is on the list of possible replacements.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is asking Californians to vote "no on the recall, and yes on Bustamante," to ensure that a Democrat continues to hold the office of governor.

Advisers to Mr. Davis have opposed the strategy, but they are now telling the media that the governor may be warming to the idea. The shift came Thursday as California's 33-member Democratic congressional delegation endorsed Mr. Bustamante, as did the 350,000 member California Teachers Association. Both groups oppose the recall.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a Californian who is the highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said this strategy could energize the state's Hispanic voters. She says many are likely to vote for Mr. Bustamante, who is Hispanic.

Gray Davis, meanwhile, is travelling the state to highlight his accomplishments as governor. Thursday, he appeared with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in Los Angeles to urge renewal of a federal ban on assault weapons.

Senator Feinstein focused her criticism on the leading Republican candidate, the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She complained that his movies glorify violence, and says he lacks the experience to balance the demands of the state's diverse constituencies.

"It is a huge state. You have high-tech interests," she said. "You have agricultural interests. Environmental interests. Business interests. Prison interests. Law enforcement interests. And on and on and on."

Senator Feinstein has refused to endorse Mr. Bustamante, saying his message of voting "no on the recall, and yes on Bustamante" will only confuse the voters.

Friday, Governor Davis spoke to Hispanic business leaders in San Diego. "Thank you for doing business in this state. Thank you for working with us to get through these clearly difficult times, but I see better days on the horizon," he said.

In comings days, Mr. Davis plans to hold town-hall style meetings up and down the state. He has held such forums, called "Conversations with Californians," in San Francisco and Hollywood.

Both Mr. Davis and Mr. Bustamante admit they lack the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They also lack the resources of the wealthy entertainer, who has bought television time around the state to reach the voters. "I'm running for governor to lead a movement for change and give California back its future," he says in one political advertisement. "I stand for fiscally responsible government, rebuilding California's economic engine, putting the needs of our children first, reforming our political system so that the public interest comes before special interests."

The two Democrats are expected to launch their own media campaigns soon, but will be competing for financial help from the same group of Democratic donors.

Things are looking bad for Mr. Davis, although supporters say it is too early to paint him out of the picture. The latest poll, released this week, shows that 58 percent of likely voters want him out of office. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the list of possible replacements, with the support of 23 percent of the voters. Mr. Bustamante has the support of 18 percent.