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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Feinstein No Longer the Wild Card

U.S. senator stays out of the race, promising to help fellow Democrat Davis in his fight.

August 07, 2003|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, Colo. — The occasion was a buffet dinner -- western style, cowboy boots and jeans suggested -- for the Aspen Strategy Group at the sprawling ranch of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her businessman husband, Richard Blum.

As dinner guests sipped cocktails and took in the view Tuesday evening, many had something other than scenery on their minds: Would their hostess enter California's recall election for governor?

Surveying a meadow that serves as Feinstein's backyard, Walter Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute, couldn't help but remark: "This is nicer than any governor's mansion I've ever seen."

His audience chortled. But Feinstein simply smiled.

What her dinner guests didn't know was that the prominent Democrat had decided against running for governor of California only a few hours earlier. Although she gave no hint of her choice, she had already searched her conscience, had already consulted with former President Clinton, had already written her statement saying she would not run and expressing her distaste at the carnival-like nature of the recall.

It had been a long and busy week for Feinstein, 70, who as a member of the Aspen Strategy Group had come to attend a seminar on curtailing violence in the Middle East and resolving the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While she went about her day job with a focus noted by her fellow participants, Feinstein spent her downtime considering her options.

On Wednesday, after her office released a morning statement announcing she would not run, Feinstein talked about how she made up her mind and how she feels about the recall effort and Gov. Gray Davis' chances.

The issue for her, she said, became a question of the heart: "Morally, ethically, is it the right thing for me to get into the race? And the only way that would be yes is if I was absolutely convinced [Davis] couldn't make it and I'm not there."

She said she made the decision not to run after weighing the fallout of leaving behind her work in the U.S. Senate if she won and making an honest assessment of Davis' chances to beat the recall.

She said she was persuaded he could win a majority of the votes by several polls she evaluated, two taken early this month.

"It became clear to me that if the governor's recall numbers were in the 60s [in favor of the recall], I did not believe that was recoverable," she said. "The polls that I saw indicate that it is recoverable."

Feinstein said she did not become wrapped up in calculating how her decision to enter the race or stay out of it would affect the rest of the field.

She made her decision before Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped into the race Wednesday.

"I have no comment," she said when told of his decision. "I don't want to say anything."

Campaign Tenor

On Monday, she had a 45-minute phone conversation with Clinton. While she said he did not advise her on whether to run, he spoke about the tenor of the recall effort.

"I think the point he gave me was [about] the frivolity of this recall," she said Wednesday, sitting in a lounge on the 40-acre campus of the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit center that holds policy conferences for national and international leaders.

"When you have a stripper and a Bob Dole and Dan Feinstein and Larry Flynt -- if that comes home to people, how the recall actually works, people will decide that after electing a governor nine months ago with 3.5 million votes, maybe he should be entitled to serve out the rest of his term."

There was pressure from some to get into a race that, according to polls, she could lead. As the final days before Saturday's filing deadline ticked by, Feinstein was inundated with dozens of phone calls and e-mails, many of them from the California delegation in the House, including House Minority Leader and fellow San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi.

There were other phone calls she didn't make or held off on returning.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan called her Monday. Only Wednesday did she try to reach Riordan, a Republican who had said he would not get into the race if Feinstein ran. He had endorsed her in past elections, and she had endorsed him. Feinstein dismissed the notion of Riordan being a factor in her decision. Nor would she speculate on his chances for becoming governor with her not on the ballot.

"That's a hypothetical," she said. "I'm not going to answer it at this stage."

And although she has spoken to Davis numerous times about the recall, they did not talk as the deadline to decide neared.

"I did not want to talk to him this week," she said. "I know what he would have to say, and I was getting all of this pressure. Of course, I'll talk to him now. I wanted time to do my own analysis with whether I felt he could win. And I do feel he could win."

Now she said she is prepared to help him in his effort to fight the recall.

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