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Davis to Make His Case, but Not Plead It

In an address at UCLA, the governor plans to speak 'from the heart,' aides say. He will explain his actions on the budget and energy crises.

August 19, 2003|Gregg Jones and Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Trailing in the polls and struggling to maintain a unified front among Democratic Party mainstays, Gov. Gray Davis will open a new phase of the fight for his political survival today with an address aimed at confronting the roots of his unpopularity and defending his performance as governor, campaign officials said.

Davis plans to use the afternoon speech at UCLA -- with just seven weeks left before election day -- to cast the recall as part of a broader effort by Republicans to undermine the nation's democratic processes.

Aides say he will liken the recall to the impeachment of President Clinton, the 2000 Florida presidential voting fracas and this year's attempt by Republicans to redraw legislative boundaries in Texas -- a fight that twice prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee the state.

That rhetorical strategy reflects concern among Davis' advisors about the large number of Democrats who tell pollsters that they plan to vote for the recall. Strategists say Davis must bring those Democrats back into the fold before large numbers decide to vote to recall him and choose Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante or one of the Republican candidates as an alternative.

Bustamante's efforts to gain support for his candidacy gained ground Monday as the Legislature's Latino caucus and a union representing state workers endorsed him. Several unions plan this week to decide whether to urge members to couple a "no" vote on the recall with a vote for the lieutenant governor.

Davis will make his most direct appeal to disgruntled Californians as:

* Republican challenger Arnold Schwarzenegger readies a 60-second television spot that will hit the airwaves Wednesday morning, the first in what is expected to be a deluge of TV advertising by the major candidates.

* A federal judge prepares to rule Wednesday on whether to allow the election to go ahead Oct. 7. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to block the use of punch-card voting machines in Los Angeles and other urban counties.

* Bill Simon, the Republican who lost to Davis last year, grew increasingly agitated at suggestions that he drop out of the recall race. Simon called instead for GOP front-runner Schwarzenegger to "step out from behind the curtain" and state his views on the issues.

Aides say that, in his speech at UCLA's Ackerman Grand Ballroom, the governor will address two issues that "stand between him and voters" -- the energy crisis and the budget deficit -- offering explanations for actions that critics say show the governor's lack of leadership.

The typically stoic Davis intends to speak "from the heart" as he responds to his critics, said aides, who added that the governor would sound a few notes of contrition and accept responsibility for his administration's shortcomings.

Davis won't apologize or ask for a second chance, campaign officials said, but he will try to make a case for why Californians should reject the recall.

"He's not going to grovel at the feet of voters and say, 'I'm sorry I let you down' or that sort of thing," said one senior advisor, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "However, he's not going to duck responsibility."

Voters on Oct. 7 will face two recall questions. The first asks whether Davis should be removed from office. The second lists 135 candidates to succeed him. If the recall question loses, the second part has no effect. But if the recall passes, whichever candidate gets the most votes will become governor as soon as the results are certified.

The governor's first comprehensive remarks on the campaign come at a moment that many Democratic strategists see as crucial for Davis. The strategists say Davis must counter a growing perception among Democrats that his recall is inevitable and that the best way to keep the governor's office in Democratic hands is to support Bustamante.

The governor's initial strategy was to hold a unified front among Democrats against the recall and against any Democratic replacement candidate. That strategy began to crumble when Bustamante announced he would run, and it has steadily eroded in recent days.

On Monday, for example, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said she would be "very involved" in the lieutenant governor's "No on the recall, Yes on Bustamante" campaign.

"It's important to have that safety net if we can't convince people to vote against the recall," Boxer told a mostly Democratic audience at Leisure World in Laguna Woods.

Also, officials of the 140,000-member California State Employees Assn. announced that their executive board had voted to back Bustamante. It remained unclear how much money the union will donate to Bustamante's campaign, said the organization's president, Perry Kenny.

And the California Teachers Assn., which has quarreled with Davis in the past, interviewed Bustamante as well as other candidates.

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