- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2003

Embattled California Gov. Gray Davis yesterday characterized the Oct. 7 special election that might boot him from office as “an insult,” yet a new poll shows that the percentage of voters who want him recalled is rising.

“I don’t like this, but I am trying to suppress those negative feelings and channel my energies into doing something positive for the people I work for, the people of this great state,” Mr. Davis told NBC’s “Today” show.

“This is an insult to the 8 million people who went to the polls last November and decided I should be governor,” he said.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday, however, showed that 64 percent of California voters supported recalling the Democratic governor from office, a 10 percent jump from a CNN/Time poll released Saturday.

In a sign of further political trouble, only 51 percent of Democrats said they wanted Mr. Davis to keep his job.

“There’s no doubt that there is frustration and disappointment among the people. I get it, I’m working hard to solve people’s problems. I trust Californians, know they’ll do the right thing,” said Mr. Davis, who needs the support of more than 50 percent of voters to survive the recall.

The leading candidate to replace Mr. Davis remains Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his support appears to be on the rise. Yesterday’s poll showed that 73 percent of California voters take Mr. Schwarzenegger’s candidacy seriously, 62 percent said there was at least “some chance” they would vote for him and 42 percent said there was a “good chance.”

More than half — 52 percent — of the 801 registered voters said Mr. Schwarzenegger would do a better job as governor than a career politician.

The Republican movie star’s support dwarfed that of the closest competitor, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante who got 22 percent in the poll. Republican businessman Bill Simon placed third with 13 percent.

Voters will simultaneously decide whether to recall Mr. Davis and select a replacement, if necessary. The replacement may only need a fraction of the vote to become governor because there are 195 candidates.

“I think the more people see of [Mr. Schwarzenegger], the more they like him,” said John Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. “Until now, they’ve only seen him through his movie roles. When people see him talking about public policy and community service, his appeal will go up.”

Mr. Simon, who lost a head-to-head match for governor with Mr. Davis in November, said he was confident that his conservative platform of smaller government and better schools would cause people to “once again rally around me.”

“Things will change when people see my proposals to balance the budget, create better schools and provide better services,” Mr. Simon said.

The frenzy surrounding Mr. Schwarzenegger’s entry into politics continued yesterday as reporters packed an assembly hall at City College of New York where the Republican actor presided over a ceremony that celebrated inner-city youth programs.

“Look at all the press back there,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said jokingly. “Give them a big hand. They are all here because they love after-school programs. Isn’t it fantastic?”

The candidates yesterday were invited to a debate Sept. 9 in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Greenlining Institute, a San Francisco-based, minority rights group.

“Any candidate who gets 5 percent or more in the polls is invited,” said Robert L. Gnaizda, general counsel for the institute. “And the governor may also speak if he wishes.”

The invite list to the event, which will be held at the 600-capacity Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, includes Mr. Schwarzenegger, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, political commentator Arianna Huffington, Mr. Bustamante, Mr. Simon, Republican State Sen. Thomas McClintock and Peter Miguel Camejo, the Green Party candidate who received 5 percent of the vote in November.

As of last night, only Mr. Camejo had committed to participate. If the debate were to be held today, however, current polling data suggests that pornographer Larry Flynt and former sitcom star Gary Coleman would also qualify.

The Greenlining Institute held a debate during last fall’s campaign, which Mr. Davis declined to participate in. Mr. Gnaizda said this time around, it might behoove the governor to attend.

“Things are quite a bit different now,” he said.

President Bush, who will travel to California on Thursday and Friday, has no plans to actively campaign for either Mr. Simon, for whom the president campaigned last year, or Mr. Schwarzenegger.

“The president believes that the people of California will decide what is best for them,” said Deputy White House press secretary Claire Buchan. “The White House has not been involved in the California recall effort.”

Last week, the president remarked that Mr. Schwarzenegger would make “a good governor.” Yesterday, a reporter asked the president’s spokeswoman whether Mr. Simon would also make a good governor.

“I haven’t asked the president that question,” she replied.

Mr. Davis said he will ask for the support of former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, to fight the recall, noting that the couple is “very popular” in California.

“Davis is down but not out,” Mr. Pitney said. “He’s one of the great survivors of American politics. Though he’s an underdog right now, we shouldn’t assume that he’s a goner.”

Steve Miller and wire services contributed to this report.

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