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California Governor Gets Help From Powerful Ally - 2003-09-03

California Governor Gray Davis is getting help from a fellow Democrat who says the upcoming recall election will only increase instability in the state. The governor's ally, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is lending her popularity as he fights to keep his job.

She is California's most popular Democrat. He's the least popular. In the ad, which began airing Wednesday, she says the recall election is bad for the state. "It's producing uncertainty and instability," she says in the ad. "It's bad for the economy, bad for jobs, and bad for California. That's why I'm voting no."

The recall ballot October 7 will have two parts. The first will ask whether Governor Davis should be removed from office. The second, which will take effect if the first part passes, asks who should replace him.

Senator Feinstein is not among the 135 candidates on the list, although many Democrats had hoped she would be. The only major Democrat who is running is Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. He is urging a no vote on the recall but yes on Bustamante, just in case the recall passes. Senator Feinstein opposes that strategy.

Surveys show that Governor Gray Davis is highly unpopular, with barely 20 percent of the voters approving of his performance. Most blame him for a disastrous budget that is leaving California with billions of dollars of debt. Recent polls show he will be lucky to get the 50 percent of the vote that he needs to stay in office.

He is so unpopular, in fact, that the Feinstein ad doesn't mention him by name, although a small picture of Mr. Davis appears briefly at the bottom of the television screen. She refers instead to the effort to remove "this governor."

Larry Grisolano of the pro-Davis group Californians Against the Costly Recall says the omission is not important. "There's no secret about who she's talking about," he says.

Gray Davis has never been popular with other politicians, and several have rebuked him for his negative campaigns. In fact, he ran against Ms. Feinstein for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in 1992. One of his campaign ads compared the rival Democrat to Leona Helmsley, a wealthy New York hotel owner who served prison time for tax evasion.

At the time, Feinstein chastised Davis for what she called a "trash" campaign, and other Democrats have made similar comments since then.

But the leading candidates in the recall race are attacking Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as much as Governor Davis. The Austrian-born actor is considered a top contender if the recall succeeds.

Arianna Huffington, a liberal and environmentalist, ridicules him in a cartoon on her Web site, showing the actor driving a gas-guzzling Hummer on his way to Sacramento.

Mr. Schwarzenegger chose not to participate in the first candidate debate Wednesday evening. The leading Democratic alternative to Governor Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, will take part.

The actor-turned-politician will instead join a debate September 24, when organizers promise to provide the questions in advance so there won't be any surprises.