SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Democrats opposing the recall petition against Gov. Gray Davis are trying to change the subject — focusing their attacks on Rep. Darrell Issa, a financial backer of the recall and the only announced candidate to replace the governor.
Even Nick Velazquez, spokesman for Taxpayers Against the Recall, said his group is not focused on rehabilitating Mr. Davis, acknowledging that “many Californians are angry with the governor, and we’re not going to say we love the governor.”
But Mr. Velasquez’s group has found a ripe target in Mr. Issa’s checkered past.
Mr. Issa has admitted to a misdemeanor conviction for possession of an unregistered weapon while he was in college (“I paid a $100 fine,” he said).
He was also arrested with his brother in a car theft as a teenager; he has been accused of bringing a gun to a business meeting, and he came under suspicion of arson when a manufacturing plant he owned burned in 1982.
“He talks about the governor misleading the people, but look who’s talking,” Mr. Velazquez said. “We’ve called on him to release his criminal record. The people in California have a right to know who he really is.”
Mr. Issa said his adult record as a successful businessman — he made his fortune in car alarms — and public office should outweigh “30-year-old allegations” about his past.
“Those kinds of attacks are what Gray Davis is known for,” Mr. Issa said.
Even if the accusations doom his candidacy, however, Mr. Issa said they should not affect the recall.
Mr. Davis “can hurt me, but what he says about me has no impact on what the voters think about him,” he said. “The recall effort has a life of its own.”
Recall opponents have also played up Mr. Issa’s conservative political record, calling him “pro-life, pro-gun and pro-offshore drilling” and therefore out of step with the state’s Democratic majority. Again, recall organizers say the tactic won’t work.
“That’s the old playbook — ‘Let’s call them a bunch of right-wingers who oppose abortion and see what happens,’” said Dave Gilliard, director of Rescue California, the largest of three recall committees. “But it’s not working this time because the people know what they want. They’re mad … it’s Proposition 13 all over again.”