- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

Democrats and Republicans in California knew another court decision was due in the state’s much-litigated Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election, yet both sides seemed surprised and somewhat bewildered by yesterday’s ruling that postponed the election.

Bipartisan uncertainty was the initial reaction to the decision by a three-judge federal appeals court panel that could delay the recall election until March. Adding to the ambiguity is the chance that the ruling might be reversed by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, or by the Supreme Court.

“If it stands, I’m not sure what effect it will have on Republicans — it’s uncharted territory,” said Ray Haynes, a conservative Republican assemblyman.

Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat, agreed. “If you have this in March of next year, I have no idea what this does,” said Mr. Matsui.

“We have to assume there will be an election in 22 days. I don’t know whose advantage it would be if it is put off,” said Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum.

The two-part ballot for the recall election asks voters if they want to recall Democrat Gov. Gray Davis and then to choose as his replacement from one of more than 100 candidates on the ballot. While a majority vote is needed to end Mr. Davis’ governorship, only a plurality is needed to choose his successor, who would become governor Oct. 8.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is the top Democratic candidate to succeed Mr. Davis, while actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock are the major Republican contenders. Democrats have made much of a recent poll showing a trend toward a “no” vote on recalling Mr. Davis. All the major players yesterday said they wanted to keep the Oct. 7 date.

Both parties once thought that having the recall in March of 2004, during a regularly scheduled primary election, would benefit Mr. Davis because more Democrats would go to the polls than in a special election, which was expected to bring out more Republicans and other anti-Davis voters. But that view has been changing.

“Obviously, Davis would rather have [the recall vote] in March because the thinks more Democrats would come out,” said John Stoos, a McClintock campaign strategist. “But it’s clear now that the turnout for this [special election] will be bigger than a primary and maybe even a general election.”

Mr. Hoffenblum said, “I’m not sure Democrats want Davis to be out there twisting in the wind for another five months.”

Mr. Matsui, the Democrat, agreed that a delay until March poses a problem for Davis. “The momentum [for a ‘no vote on the recall] had shifted to Davis, and this probably disrupts his momentum.”

Some Republicans suggested yesterday’s decision could benefit President Bush in his quest to carry California in next year’s presidential elections. No Republican candidate has done so in the past three presidential races.

“If it stretches the time before a recall election, it could strengthen [Republicans] because people are going to be madder than a hornet,” Mr. Haynes said. “Our voters are raring to go, regardless of whether they support Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tom McClintock.”

Mr. Haynes said if the ruling stands, the delay into next year would infuriate Republican rank-and-file voters, increasing their focus, unity and intensity. The longer the delay in the recall, the greater the intensity of Republican voters, which could help Mr. Bush in November of 2004.

Polls continue to show Mr. Davis is the most unpopular governor in the state’s history — at least since polling began.

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