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Victorious Davis Issues Caution

Governor: While delighting in win, the Democrat warns against expecting radical change.


SAN DIEGO — It was still sinking in for Gray Davis on Wednesday. The biggest Democratic landslide for governor of California in decades, and he was the winner--the same longshot candidate who was running last barely nine months ago.

"The guy in the mirror [this morning] was so dynamic I didn't recognize him," a cheery though sleep-deprived Davis told reporters in Santa Monica before he jetted off for a victory lap around the state. "It was a great victory. I never expected 20 points [for a victory margin]."

The crowds who turned out to join Davis on Wednesday shared the feeling. They didn't just shake hands with the new governor-elect, they hugged him. They snapped pictures. They shouted, "Way to go, Gray!"

In downtown San Diego, where a lunch-hour crowd of about 300 filled the sidewalk outside the Horton Plaza shopping center, a clearly buoyed Davis told cheering backers he was "honored and humbled by your support."

Hours after the hurly-burly dash to election day though, Davis was also putting on the brakes, reminding everyone from elated activists to business leaders not to expect the radical change some might have anticipated.

"I will govern from the center, taking ideas from the left and the right but forging new coalitions so we can move together," he said in San Diego.

Instead of thanking voters in Democratic strongholds such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, Davis made two of his three stops in San Diego and Fresno, areas often friendly to Republicans but willing to listen to Democrats.

Davis won San Diego County and lost Fresno County to Republican challenger Dan Lungren by just 3 points, a smaller margin than any Democratic gubernatorial candidate in more than 20 years.

"Believe me, there is not going to be any spending spree. We are going to be a responsible, restrained government serving all of the people, whether they voted for me or not," Davis told reporters after a private, pre-victory tour breakfast with supporters in Beverly Hills.

The message of the day was temporarily sidetracked in Oakland when former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., now mayor-elect of the city, unexpectedly showed up at a Davis event at a subway station.

Brown offered a cordial welcome to Davis and congratulations on the victory, but the unplanned meeting left Davis looking awkward and uncomfortable. He quickly turned away to greet other supporters.

In coming weeks, Davis will tackle a momentous series of decisions whose outcome will reshape the direction of California for the next several years. He has a state budget to present in barely two months, a cabinet to appoint and hundreds of personnel and policy decisions to make regarding every facet of state government.

He said Wednesday that he may have a major announcement Friday, just before he leaves on a five-day vacation.

He is already receiving advice and job applications from the anxious activists and strategists in a party that has not held the governor's office for 16 years. But he also had some words for them.

"I am going to do this my way," he insisted in an interview. "I am going to do it methodically. I am not going to make a whole lot of news in the next few days. I am going to . . . take it subject matter by subject matter and . . . ask people to develop policy suggestions, and once I am comfortable with the policy direction, then we will look for people to implement those policies."

It is probably not the pace that many of the activist Democrats who staffed and funded Davis' campaign would prefer.

Labor supporters with hoarse voices cheered from the candidate's election night stage Tuesday about "building a new California" that supports overtime pay, eight-hour workdays, prevailing-wage laws, pension security and health care reform.

Davis has pegged education as his top priority, and a host of interest groups eagerly await a sign from the new chief, who will officially succeed Gov. Pete Wilson in January.

But it is perhaps revealing that although Davis has spent 24 years in public office, groups with much at stake are uncertain where he will lead the state.

Davis ran his campaign as a Clinton-style centrist who backed tax cuts and the death penalty. But he also has roots in the left-wing era of Brown, whom he served as chief of staff, and he received major contributions from organized labor. Even he describes a political vision that was shaped first by Republican parents and later by a profound sense of unfairness about the disproportionate service of minority soldiers in Vietnam.

Davis looked eager Wednesday, lifted more by the wonder of his victory than the three brief hours of sleep he said he got Tuesday night. He took congratulatory calls from President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday, but never did reach his Republican rival, Dan Lungren, although he said he tried.

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