- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A week before the election, independent candidate Arianna Huffington dropped out of the California recall race last night, saying it was her best hope of preventing Arnold Schwarzenegger from becoming governor.

“I’m pulling out and I’m going to concentrate all my time and energy in the next week working to defeat the recall because I realize that’s the only way to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Mrs. Huffington said as she made the announcement on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

Mrs. Huffington’s exit removes a similar voice to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s from the race, and leaves Mr. Bustamante as the Democrats’ best hope of thwarting Mr. Schwarzenegger should Gov. Gray Davis lose the recall vote.

She had the support of 2 percent of likely voters in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday.

But Mrs. Huffington declined to specifically endorse Mr. Bustamante, merely urging her supporters to “vote strategically” in an effort to stop the Republicans from winning the California governorship. She urged people to vote against the recall and then consider their options for the second half of Tuesday’s ballot.

Van Jones, her chief organizer, said before the TV appearance that Mrs. Huffington was trying “to position herself so she can maximize opposition to the Schwarzenegger coup.”

Mrs. Huffington, 53, was a TV pundit who made the transformation from conservative backer of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, to a fiery liberal populist.

At a campaign appearance yesterday before her announcement, which was widely expected, Mr. Davis praised Mrs. Huffington and wished her well.

“I think Arianna Huffington has brought some wisdom and some clarity to the second question on this ballot, and I believe she’s made a contribution to the dialogue that has begun over these last 70 to 75 days,” he said.

Mrs. Huffington had criticized Mr. Bustamante’s acceptance of big campaign donations from Indian casino interests.

But she called it “wonderful news” on Sunday when Mr. Bustamante made a surprise endorsement of her initiative to publicly finance state election campaigns.

“As you know, I believe in conversions, and I believe in redemption,” said Mrs. Huffington, who called herself a “recovering Republican” after her divorce from her husband, Republican Senate candidate Michael Huffington.

Appearing at a San Francisco news conference while Mrs. Huffington made her announcement, Mr. Schwarzenegger said he was “disappointed” she had dropped out.

“She brought a lot of color and a lot of excitement to the race,” he said.

Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, who had 5 percent in the Gallup poll, said Mrs. Huffington called him Sunday to let him know she was considering getting out of the race.

“I advised her against it,” said Mr. Camejo, who early in the campaign had an unofficial pact with Mrs. Huffington calling for one of the two to drop out if the other appeared close to victory. Mr. Camejo said he has no intention of withdrawing himself.

In the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 40 percent of likely voters supported Mr. Schwarzenegger and 25 percent backed Mr. Bustamante. Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock had 18 percent and has vowed to stay in the race despite pressure to pull out to avoid splitting the Republican vote.

The poll showed that 63 percent of likely voters favored removing Mr. Davis. Other polls, however, depict a tighter race on the recall issue and among the replacement candidates.

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