- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

A special election this fall to recall California Gov. Gray Davis appears inevitable, but some Republicans say a successful effort to remove the state’s Democratic governor will hurt President Bush’s chances of carrying California next year.

“The White House is much better off if Gray Davis is the governor in 2004,” said Tim Morgan, a Republican National Committee member from California. “The president could more effectively campaign with a wounded Gray Davis as governor than with another Democrat.”

Other Republicans say privately that any Republican who replaced Mr. Davis would just get blamed for gridlock.

Nevertheless, to the dismay of most California Republican leaders, a few prominent Republicans are supporting and financing the recall drive.

“I cannot see why anybody in his right mind would be supporting the recall of Governor Gray Davis for two reasons,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett. “He created this budget problem and he has to solve it. And no matter how you look at it, it is going to be expensive and difficult to do.”

Only 21 percent of state voters approve of Mr. Davis, and recall proponents already have gathered the 897,158 signatures required to put the recall question on the ballot. They plan to get another 300,000 signatures in case some in the first batch are ruled invalid. Voters blame Mr. Davis for a $35 billion budget deficit and for lying about the shortfall before last November’s election.

Despite his low poll numbers and record deficit, Mr. Davis won re-election last year over Republican businessman Bill Simon, whose campaign was widely viewed as inept.

Nonetheless, California Republicans haven’t elected a governor since Pete Wilson was re-elected in 1994, and no Republican presidential candidate has won the state since 1988.

The Bush-Cheney re-election team had been counting on the unpopularity of Mr. Davis to help change that.

Rep. Darrell Issa, a wealthy San Diego area Republican businessman who has underwritten the recall effort with several hundred thousand dollars of his own money and is formally running to replace Mr. Davis, said his party had an obligation to try to straighten out the state.

“I cannot say I disagree with any of [Mr. Bennetts or Mr. Morgans] logic, but I think the recall is the right thing to do for California,” Mr. Issa said. He said he will be able to eliminate the deficit over three yeas by cutting spending and reforming the state’s workmen’s compensation system, which is eating the state alive financially.

Mr. Issa said he has just enough Republicans in both chambers to sustain his vetoes of Democratic spending and taxes.

Some Republicans are ignoring Mr. Issa and talking instead about dream candidates such as movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. But a Schwarzenegger governorship — he favors gun control, abortion and adoption by homosexual parents — would bring with it a conservative’s nightmare in the form of Maria Shriver, his wife and a Kennedy who is the daughter of liberal Democrat Sargent Shriver.

Other Republicans back Mr. Issa, claiming they can win the governorship.

“The recall is going to happen and the GOP needs to work to find a united message,” said the California GOP’s chairman, Duf Sundheim, who works closely with White House political advisers. “We have several qualified people interested in running, but our ability to be successful will be tied to our ability to unite around one candidate.”

California consultant Wayne Johnson says fellow Republicans are “sleep-walking and in denial” about the inevitability of a recall election and need to start now to think of ways to win. “It’s time to stop second-guessing whether the recall should have happened,” said Mr. Johnson.

Republicans have a little more than a third of the seats in the state Assembly and the Senate. Mr. Sundheim argues that a Republican governor would be able to work with the minority Republican lawmakers to get a grip on the deficit.

But Mr. Morgan says “the White House must be anxious over the probability that either Davis survives the vote or some Democrat like [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein is elected, thereby vastly complicating the president’s re-election effort in ‘04. The only way that could be avoided if one prominent Republican would appear on the ballot and several prominent Democrats.”

Some California Democratic leaders are privately urging Mr. Davis to resign before the recall petitions are certified next month, in which case the Democratic lieutenant governor automatically would succeed him and stop the recall drive in its tracks.

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