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Feinstein Stands By Decision to Stay Out of Race

August 08, 2003|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, Colo. — Insisting she stands by her decision not to enter the recall fray, Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday derided the race as "a first-class carnival" and called two new entrants, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, opportunists.

Despite her statement a day earlier saying that she would stay out of the race, Feinstein continued to be drawn back to the question. She gave three television interviews from the campus of the Aspen Institute and declined to shut the door entirely on entering the campaign before the deadline of 5 p.m. Saturday.

Asked by CNN's Judy Woodruff if there were any chance she would reconsider, Feinstein, California's Democratic senior senator, said: "No, not at this time. As you know, the time ends on Saturday, with the exception of a write-in down the pike."

When Woodruff pressed her on what, if anything, would change her mind, Feinstein demurred, adding with a smile: "It's kind of interesting that people won't accept no for an answer."

She was clearer on the subject of replacement candidates, characterizing Schwarzenegger as a muscle-bound actor given to gun-toting roles and saying he lacked experience for the job of leading the nation's most populous state.

She also expressed displeasure at Democrats who ignored her pleas that they stay off the ballot.

Off-camera she flashed some annoyance at interviewers' reluctance to accept that her "no" meant no.

"I didn't know she was going to persist in this," Feinstein said to her husband, investment banker Richard Blum, after the Woodruff interview.

Still the question remained: Were there any plausible circumstances under which she would enter the race?

She chuckled wearily.

"I haven't really thought about it," she said, standing outside, away from the television cameras. "I mean, if there were, I probably wouldn't talk [about it] to you, you know?"

Before this week, she had urged all California Democratic officials not to run against Davis, who was forced into a recall election by the gathering of more than 1.6 million signatures.

"I called everyone -- all the constitutional officers -- and urged them not to run. Bustamante, the controller ... " she said. Controller Steve Westly announced later that he would not join the race.

Asked whether she also talked to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who announced Thursday that he was running, Feinstein said: "I think I missed him." She said they had traded phone messages.

"I really meant what I said," she explained of her request to other Democrats not to join the campaign and give it legitimacy. Instead, she counseled for a Democratic boycott on entering the election, which she and others believed would help Davis survive the challenge. Her pleas were ignored, however, by Democrats who believed that support for Davis was fading and that he could no longer survive.

Of Bustamante's candidacy, she said: "I think it's opportunism again. He'll get a certain percentage of the vote. He'll certainly never have a majority of the vote. Garamendi will get a percentage. Flynt will get some. Schwarzenegger will get some. Bill Simon will get some. So there's no way this is going to add up to anybody having a mandate."

Feinstein wouldn't comment on whether she believed Bustamante could be a good governor.

She directed her harshest comments at Schwarzenegger, whose entry into the race surprised her, she said.

"I couldn't believe the platitudes," she said of the "Terminator 3" star's announcement Wednesday on NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and followed by a brief news conference.

" 'I'm going to clean house.' Where? How? 'I'm going to be a governor for all the people.' I don't think he's been to two counties in California. Maybe two. Maybe three. How do you know the problems in the farm community, in the tech community, up in the northern part of the state?"

Feinstein said she talked to former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan on Wednesday afternoon, before either of them knew Schwarzenegger intended to run.

"He said, 'If Arnold does not run, I'll give it serious consideration,' " said Feinstein, a longtime friend of Riordan who endorsed the mayor during his 1997 reelection campaign. "I thought, well, there's not a lot of time for serious consideration."

With events moving quickly, Feinstein declined to predict how the campaign now might shape up for Davis.

"We're in a period that's very volatile," she said. "After Saturday the field is set, and based on a set field you devise your strategy."

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