- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A majority of likely voters in California would choose to oust embattled Gov. Gray Davis, according to a poll released yesterday.

Though 51 percent of respondents would vote to replace the Democratic governor, the nonpartisan Field Poll also found voters are far from settled on the issue. Forty-three percent would vote against the recall; 6 percent are undecided.

A quick solution to the state’s ongoing budget crisis could cause some to change their minds. If the state budget problems were resolved in the next few weeks, 14 percent of respondents who said they would recall the governor would be less inclined to do so.

The state is facing a $38 billion budget deficit that is forcing it to make spending cuts and prompting Democratic legislators to push for tax increases.

The state has been without a budget for three weeks as Republicans resist tax increases.

The poll results indicate the governor’s fate is linked to the state’s financial mess, and that the timing of the recall election could be critical to its outcome. An election this fall is considered more hazardous to Mr. Davis because the electorate is expected to be in a more conservative mood and because the deficit, the largest in the state’s history, is weighing on voters’ minds.

Most respondents said they believe Mr. Davis deceived them about the size of the state’s budget deficit during last year’s campaign, according to the poll of 719 likely voters. The poll, conducted July 1-13, has a sampling error of 4 percent.

If the election is delayed until the state’s Democratic presidential primary in April, the budget likely will have been resolved and will be less of an issue, said Republican strategist Dan Schnur. But he said a new budget cycle will be under way, with similar problems.

Democrats are neither surprised nor worried about the poll’s results, said Bob Mulholland, a state party strategist.

“This recall by the Taliban element of the Republican party will be defeated whenever it is held,” he said.

The poll, while offering encouraging news for the Republican backers of the recall, also reveals that the only declared candidate for Mr. Davis’ post has little support among likely voters. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has bankrolled the recall effort with more than $1 million, yet only 4 percent named him as their first choice for governor among a list of candidates.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan was the most popular response, with 21 percent naming him first choice to replace Mr. Davis. Arnold Schwarzenegger trailed him with 15 percent, followed by Republican businessman Bill Simon, who lost his bid for the governorship to Mr. Davis in 2002.

Mr. Riordan, considered to be a relatively centrist Republican along with Mr. Schwarzenegger, lost to Mr. Simon in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary.

The poll is primarily measuring name recognition, said Mr. Schnur, who listed Mr. Simon and Mr. Schwarzenegger as the top Republican candidates, despite the poll.

Mr. Schnur said it is unlikely state Republican leadership will be able to coalesce the Republican vote around one candidate, but it may be in their best interest to surround Mr. Davis with several candidates because “not even he can go negative on everybody.”

“Davis’ greatest political strength is his ability to demonize his opponents,” Mr. Schnur said. “But it is easiest to do that when there is only one candidate.”

Mr. Issa has borne the brunt of the attacks, but his communications director, Jonathan Wilcox, said the campaign is undeterred by the poll.

“Issa was there in the beginning and he will be there in the end,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Prominent Democrats have refrained from entering the race. National party leadership has vowed to stand behind Mr. Davis, hoping the absence of Democrats on the recall ballot will deter Democrats from supporting the recall. The poll found the field of candidates would influence the recall vote for 43 percent of voters.

But Mr. Schnur said that strategy will not hold.

And the poll’s director, Mark DiCamillo, said the numbers indicate there is a vacuum waiting for a Democratic candidate. Twenty-four percent of voters said they would prefer a different candidate to the six listed.

The poll also reported that a majority, 59 percent, said a special fall election to recall Mr. Davis is a waste of taxpayer money.

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