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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Bustamante Criticizes Davis' Aides

He says 'minions' are undercutting his efforts. Schwarzenegger is called a 'liberal' in Simon's ad.

August 18, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

The campaign for governor intensified Sunday as Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante charged Gov. Gray Davis with undermining his campaign, and Republican candidate Bill Simon Jr. launched a radio ad calling actor Arnold Schwarzenegger "a liberal."

The moves signaled that the free-for-all race to replace the governor is splitting -- for now -- into at least two different campaigns: one within each of the major party's ranks.

"It's like two primaries within a jumbled" election, said Wayne Johnson, the strategist running Simon's campaign.

Bustamante, in a television interview, suggested that aides to Davis were hurting the chances of keeping a Democrat in the governor's office by impeding him.

"If he worked with me a little bit more, I think we could make sure ... that the Democratic Party kept ahold of this position," Bustamante said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If some of the governor's minions would stop trying to undercut my efforts ... we have the possibility of having a win-win position on the ballot."

Bustamante has said that he opposes the recall but wants people to vote for him on the second part of the ballot -- the choice of potential successors to Davis -- to ensure that the state will have a Democratic governor if Davis loses.

Many political strategists have warned that such a "vote no, but" strategy is potentially confusing to voters. It is likely to distract from what a candidate would normally make his first priority -- getting people to vote for him, they say.

In an interview, Bustamante campaign strategist Richard Ross said potential "significant donors" have been dissuaded by the Davis campaign from giving money.

"The governor's people have been actively and aggressively going after potential supporters and contributors and telling them not to contribute any money," Ross said. He did not provide specifics.

"It's slowing us down, and that's what it's aimed at," he said.

Ross said he believes the Davis campaign wants to "go at it alone."

"The governor's people, in my judgment, are acting selfishly and irresponsibly," he added.

Gabriel Sanchez, a spokesman for Davis, called the charge that the governor's campaign was impeding Bustamante's fund-raising "ridiculous."

"It's just not true," Sanchez said. "Our focus is on beating the recall."

Davis is poised to go on the offensive in his attempt to stop his slide in the polls.

Focus groups and poll results suggest that Democrats and independents haven't closed their minds entirely to the prospect of keeping Davis in office and casting votes against the recall, campaign officials and Democratic strategists said.

The governor is considering making a statewide address this week to appeal directly to Democrats and independents to stand by him, people familiar with the discussions said.

"It's our only chance," said one of those sources.

The relationship between Davis and Bustamante, the leading Democratic candidate to replace him, has grown increasingly uneasy.

Although Davis and Bustamante were elected at the same time, the governor and lieutenant governor run separately, not as a ticket, and the two men have never had a close relationship.

Earlier this month, the governor's aides tried to stop any prominent Democrats from going onto the ballot, fearing that their presence would undermine Davis by making the recall more legitimate in voters' eyes. That effort failed when Bustamante decided to run.

Now, labor unions, environmental groups and other constituencies that have been backing Davis are debating whether to put their money and organizational efforts behind Bustamante.

Key decisions are expected over the next 10 days.

In the television interview, Bustamante said he still believed the recall was wrong, adding that it could "start an era of perpetual politics."

But "whether I was on the ballot or not, people are going to have that second vote," he said. "I think I provide that real clean, positive option."

Bustamante cast his administration as one that would fight for Democratic issues such as abortion rights and environmental protection. And he sought to portray the state's financial straits as the responsibility of both parties.

"This is not one person's fault, and it's not one person's folly," he said. "This is something we all got into ourselves, and it's going to take some tough love to get us out of it."

But he hinted that he would govern differently from Davis, despite their ideological similarities.

"Clearly, we have a different style and I think that you'll find that the two people have a different way of doing things," he said.

Bustamante, who until now has done almost no public campaigning, plans to unveil his economic plan for the state Tuesday in Sacramento.

On the Republican side, the radio ad from Simon, who was the party's candidate for governor last year, sought to capitalize on a comment by Schwarzenegger advisor Warren Buffett.

In an interview Thursday with the Wall Street Journal, Buffett suggested that Californians pay too little in property taxes.

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