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California Governor Seeks Delay in Recall Vote - 2003-08-04

California Governor Gray Davis has asked the California Supreme Court to delay an October 7 recall election, and to add his own name to the list of possible replacements. The recall race is heating up as Mr. Davis announced some progress in the state budget crisis that has fueled his unpopularity.

Californians, fuming over the state's enormous fiscal problems, will decide two questions in the recall election, if Governor Davis should be removed from office, and, if he is, who should replace him.

If a majority of voters endorse his removal, the candidate with the most votes will become governor.

Mr. Davis, as the subject of the recall, is not eligible to have his name included on the list of candidates. His attorney, Michael Kahn, filed a request Monday to change that, and to delay the recall vote until March 2, the next regularly scheduled election.

"What we're asking to do is to save the state a huge amount of money, allow all the citizens the opportunity to vote, and allow all the voting officials an opportunity to set up a fair election," he said.

A delay would eliminate the use of punch-card ballot machines, which caused problems in Florida in the last presidential election. The machines are due to be phased out in California by next March.

A delay could also help the Democratic governor because the Democratic primaries, scheduled for March 2, will bring many party members to the polls.

The governor's legal request is a calculated risk. Mr. Davis is known as a shrewd politician, too shrewd even for some in his own party. The request may well give ammunition to his critics.

Democrats, meanwhile, are planning strategy as they try retain their hold on the state's top office. California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is one of many urging a popular Democrat, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, to enter the race. Senator Feinstein has so far said no, and says she is backing Mr. Davis.

That could change, however. California's other senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer, says her party should oppose the recall but be open to fielding a candidate if Mr. Davis is likely to lose.

Congresswoman Sanchez says she may decide to run. "I still believe we need somebody on that second question on the ballot," he said. "So we'd better have a strong Democrat, and it's important for all California to have that."

Candidates have until August 9 to get their names on the ballot, and lawyers for Governor Davis have asked the court to make its decision by the end of August. The state supreme court must also rule on four other recall-related lawsuits.

This election is uncharted territory, says political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California.

"We have no conventional wisdom to fall back on," he said. "There's no data to crunch to figure out who will turn out and who won't. We will know what to expect in this first gubernatorial recall on October 8, the day after the election."

Or March 3, if the state supreme court should decide to postpone the vote until March 2.

Saturday, Mr. Davis put another problem behind him as he reluctantly signed a $99 billion California budget that relies heavily on loans and deferred spending. It leaves a multi-billion dollar shortfall for next year, and Mr. Davis called it "bad policy," but the best available option.

Spending reductions will cost California's two public university systems more than $400 million, and local governments will lose more than $800 million. The recall effort stemmed in part from dissatisfaction over the budget crisis.