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California Recall Campaign Gains Momentum - 2003-08-16


In California, Republicans and Democrats are weighing their options as the recall campaign against Democratic Governor Gray Davis gains momentum. Democrats want to retain the governorship and Republicans hope to win it.

Both parties have a dilemma. Democrats must decide if they should continue to back Mr. Davis as the voters decide October 7 whether to remove him as governor. Alternatively, should they focus their energies on electing a Democratic replacement, Cruz Bustamante, who is now the state's lieutenant governor?

There have been suggestions that Mr. Davis resign before the election, allowing Mr. Bustamante, the state's second highest officeholder, to take his place. Mr. Bustamante would still face the recall, but he may have a better chance of surviving it.

Democratic party officials are backing Mr. Davis and are urging a "no" vote on the recall, which the governor calls the latest Republican attack on his party.

"I am happy that there is a resounding 'no' coming from the Democratic party because they have seen in this country some Republicans try and steal elections," said Governor Davis. "It started with Clinton's impeachment. It went to Florida. Now they're trying to do it in Texas. And now they want to steal another election here in California, and all the Democrats are opposed to that idea."

Mr. Davis needs support of more than 50 percent of the voters to survive the recall, and polls show that as of today, some 60 percent of voters want to replace him.

If he does not survive, his successor needs far less support to become the next governor. There are 135 candidates on the second part of the ballot, and the highest-polling candidate will get the job.

Republicans, however, also face a dilemma. The four leading Republican candidates could split the vote, allowing the Democratic lieutenant governor to win the election.

Some Republican activists are asking Republican candidates Bill Simon, Peter Ueberroth, and Tom McClintock to back Republican frontrunner Arnold Schwarzenegger. None has yet agreed to do so.

California faces a $38 billion budget deficit, and all the Republican candidates are reserving their harshest attacks for Governor Davis. But several have also criticized Mr. Schwarzenegger, who they say is inexperienced and vague on the issues.

The actor is fending off critics by assembling a high-powered team of advisors, which he says will include a former U.S. secretary of state.

"Secretary George Schultz will be part of my economic recovery team and he will be co-chairing it with Warren Buffett," he said.

Mr. Buffett is one of the world's wealthiest businessmen.

The leading candidates are expected to join a debate in Sacramento September 17. Mr. Davis will not be invited but will be offered the chance to tape a message to be aired separately.