- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Organizers of the Republican-led drive to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis fanned out across California yesterday to turn in their last batch of petitions, saying they had collected a total of 1.6 million signatures — almost twice what they needed.

The recall drive has been fueled by discontent over California’s energy crisis and $38 billion budget deficit, sending Mr. Davis’ approval ratings to record-low levels.

Recall backers said they were bracing for a legal challenge aimed at whether the people gathering signatures were registered to vote in California, as state election law requires. They predicted they would easily turn such a lawsuit aside.

The embattled governor’s supporters said they would outline their counterattack strategy today even as they conceded that a recall election looks nearly inevitable.

“We’re looking at everything in terms of who’s handling petitions, what the people were being told, whether people who were circulating petitions were legally able to do so or not,” said Nick Velasquez, spokesman for Taxpayers Against the Recall.

“Whatever they do will amount to nothing more than a frivolous lawsuit,” said Chris Wysocki, spokesman for Rescue California … Recall Gray Davis.

“We had to make sure that we played this strictly by the numbers and by the book and we did everything possible,” he added. “A signature gatherer did not get paid unless they were a registered voter.”

Davis opponents held a news conference in Sacramento to announce they were turning in their final petitions to county election offices and had gathered more than 1.6 million signatures, far more than the 897,158 necessary to get a recall on the ballot. Counties still must verify the signatures as valid.

A legal battle could delay a recall vote from this fall to March, when heavy Democratic turnout for the state’s presidential primary could help Mr. Davis.

The lieutenant governor will set the election date after the secretary of state certifies sufficient signatures have been turned in. Recall backers hope that will happen next Wednesday, when counties face a deadline to report signature counts to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, a Democrat.

A recall ballot would have two sections. In the first, voters would be asked whether or not to oust Mr. Davis. In the second they would choose from a list of candidates to replace him. Mr. Davis’ name would not be on that list.

So far, the only declared major-party candidate is Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who has spent $1.5 million of his own money to fund the recall.

The state’s major Democratic officeholders have said they do not intend to put their names on the ballot. Strategists from both parties said Mr. Davis would be more likely to survive if there are no Democratic alternatives.

But some Democratic analysts said if an election nears and polls show Mr. Davis could lose, one or more Democrats would jump in to replace him.

The Sacramento Bee on Sunday became the first major newspaper to endorse this approach, chiding Democrats for plans to stay off the ballot and coming close to calling for a candidacy by the state’s most popular Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“Somewhere there must be a Democrat who shares the public’s judgment that Gray Davis has failed but believes that voters should have the chance to choose another Democrat as governor if Davis is recalled,” the newspaper said. “There is such a Democrat, isn’t there, Sen. Feinstein?”

Mrs. Feinstein’s office had no immediate comment.

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