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A Political Whirlwind Leaves Heads Spinning

August 10, 2003|Peter Y. Hong

It was a week like no other in California politics, as the campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis became an international spectacle. There were celebrity candidates, surprise announcements and backroom political dealing, as well stunts and sideshows. Here's a look back:


* In Chicago, Gov. Davis asks a national gathering of AFL-CIO political directors for their support and $10 million to defeat the recall effort.

* Davis' lawyers ask the California Supreme Court to postpone the recall vote until the March 2004 presidential primary election.

* Democratic members of the state Senate discuss whether to back a single Democrat to run as an alternative candidate, but reach no conclusion.

* Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt declares his intention to run at his Beverly Hills office.

Sitting behind a desk topped with his publications, such as Barely Legal magazine. Flynt -- who owns a casino -- says he would raise revenue by expanding the use of slot machines.

"Just because I publish pornography does not mean that I am not concerned about the social ills that all of us are," he tells reporters. "I don't have one penny in special interest money behind me. I don't owe anybody anything, and in the end I would not owe anybody anything, and I think that I would be Gray Davis' and the California Republican Party's worst nightmare come true if I got elected."

He offers as a possible campaign slogan: "Vote for a Smut Peddler Who Cares."

* The 99-Cent Only chain of stores advertises an offer to pay the filing fee for any candidate who is 99 years old.



* The AFL-CIO governing body votes unanimously to oppose the recall effort and back Davis.

* State Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) files papers establishing his candidacy.

"This state is in bad need of an overhaul," McClintock says. "That's what this election is all about -- changing the direction of California."

* Anticipation builds over Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance Wednesday on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

But conventional wisdom, building for days, is that the actor won't run. Instead, the focus is on whether former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will enter the race.

"He hasn't given me final word, but he seems to me to be leaning against it," says George Gorton, Schwarzenegger's political consultant.



* Feinstein affirms early in the morning that she will not run but offers Davis some advice.

"I think that the governor has an opportunity to show Californians that he is a hard-working, transparent, forceful, decision-making governor," Feinstein says. "And that's really his challenge. I mean, I don't think 'right-wing conspiracy' or any of this stuff works. He's got to show the people of California what he's doing day by day to work for their benefit. That's an important thing. If he does that, my reading of the polls shows it can be defeated."

A few hours later, author and political commentator Arianna Huffington announces her unaffiliated run.

"This is a window of opportunity to fix a broken system," Huffington tells a crowd of supporters. "It is not just politically but morally imperative that we make sure the California Republican Party is not able to use the recall to hijack the state."

* In the afternoon, Schwarzenegger announces his candidacy on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." After opening skits with lustful Barbie dolls smoking marijuana and alluding to masturbation, Schwarzenegger takes the stage. He says he will run, prompting the audience to explode with applause.

"It was the most difficult decision I have made in my entire life, except the one in 1978, when I decided to get a bikini wax," Schwarzenegger says.

Then why run? "The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing. And the man that is failing the people more than anyone is Gray Davis," he says.

What about vicious campaign attacks? "Larry Flynt is going to make me shine," Schwarzenegger says.

And special interests can't touch him, he says: "I have plenty of money. No one can pay me off. Trust me -- no one."

To Leno's suggestion that he embodies an American dream, Schwarzenegger replies: "It's fantastic: This is the land of opportunity, and I can promise you that when I go to Sacramento, I will pump up Sacramento."

* Late that night, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante confirms that he will run for governor, shattering the prospect that Democrats will unite around Davis.



* The California Supreme Court rejects five challenges to the recall effort, including one by Davis. Legal experts say further litigation and pending cases, such as one challenging the use of punch-card voting machines, still could affect the recall election.

* Riordan announces that he will not run and backs Schwarzenegger.

* Bustamante announces his candidacy. He urges voters to oppose the recall effort, characterizing himself as a backup if Davis is ousted.

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