- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A recent Los Angeles Times poll suggests that support for recalling California Gov. Gray Davis is waning, and California Democrats hope to keep that momentum going by wooing former President Bill Clinton to help save the governor.

Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said he’d like Mr. Clinton to help Mr. Davis when he arrives for a scheduled trip to the state from Sept. 14 to 16, but nothing has been confirmed.

“They hadn’t decided what the president is going to do as of last night,” Mr. Torres said. “We know he’s going to be here for speeches. Would we like him to help? Of course. But there hasn’t been any agreement of whether he is able to do such a thing or where the locations would be.”

Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy confirmed that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Davis have “been in touch in recent weeks,” but said the former president hasn’t made a commitment to depart from his planned foundation outreach work to delve again into politics.

Other Democratic sources said it is more likely than not that Mr. Clinton will hit the stump for the unpopular governor. However, former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, now a California-based political consultant, said Mr. Clinton’s involvement in the race could be “dangerous.”

“I would think pretty carefully before you suddenly try to engage [Mr. Clinton] in a full-scale campaign,” Mr. Panetta said, explaining that “converting this into a national battle between Democrats and Republicans can result in backlash on both sides.

“We’ve never gone through this before,” he said. “There’s just too many things that can change the dynamic from day to day. Anything that kind of takes risks with the odds is something you have to think carefully about.”

If a political event or two does show up on Mr. Clinton’s schedule, it could be because both the Los Angeles Times poll and internal Democratic polls show the recall of Mr. Davis losing steam.

The newspaper reported Monday that 50 percent of California voters supported the recall, down from around 60 percent in some polls just two weeks earlier.

“What we are seeing is a downward trend on recall,” Mr. Torres said. “This conforms with inside [party] numbers I saw last night. The Times’ poll has energized the base [of Democrats] from the governor on down. All polls we have seen hover around the 50s.”

Others, however, question the validity of the Los Angeles Times poll, taken between Aug. 16 and Aug. 21 because it varies widely from others taken at around the same time.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll released days before the newspaper’s poll put support for the recall at a solid 58 percent. A Field Poll showed the same thing.

Both of those polls canvassed lists of registered voters, considered by experts a consistently reliable sample, as opposed to the Times’ poll, which phoned homes and tried to determine through its questioning whether they were speaking to regular voters.

“These [media] polls cut corners. They save costs,” said California Republican political analyst Arnold Steinberg. “Some of these media polls can become self-fulfilling prophesies. There’s some element of truth to it, but based on all the data I’ve seen, I don’t think five points separates the Davis recall.”

With only six weeks until the Oct. 7 recall election, little time remains for each party to get its base excited about voting. All polls show Republicans more enthusiastic about voting in the recall, an element that Democrats fear could negate their party’s 45 percent to 35 percent advantage in voter registration.

A Republican taking over as governor of the largest state — especially a political neophyte like movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican front-runner — would be seen as a particular humiliation for Democrats, said David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“If the Republicans pull this out, it will have a significant impact nationally,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It will be mud in the eye to the Democratic Party.”

Democrats and the state’s most powerful union have hedged their bets by rallying to the side of Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante to replace Mr. Davis in the event he is recalled.

The California AFL-CIO, the state’s most powerful union with 2.1 million members, yesterday threw its support behind Mr. Bustamante. California’s influential teachers union and other labor groups endorsed Mr. Bustamante earlier this month, and the state’s Democratic delegation to the U.S. House has declared its support for Mr. Bustamante.

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