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Feinstein, Boxer Help Davis Campaign in Southland

August 21, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis picked up the pace of his anti-recall campaign Wednesday, stumping Southern California with the drive and abandon of a man who knows his political future is on the line.

Hopscotching from one event to another, a seemingly energized Davis spiced up the defense of his job with unusually sharp comments about his Republican rivals, and brought out two of his most powerful supporters, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, to speak on his behalf.

"Republican ideology in Sacramento," Davis said, "is that they would rather shoot their mother than raise any tax."

Others among the 135 candidates seeking Davis' job were out as well, sketching the political landscape that will dominate the state for the next two months.

Commentator and author Arianna Huffington took her independent campaign to a charter school west of downtown Los Angeles, where she criticized Davis for fighting a lawsuit demanding better conditions for poor and minority students.

Former sports czar Peter V. Ueberroth debuted his Republican campaign by painting himself as an untraditional campaigner incapable of sound-bite answers or telegenic photo ops.

And Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the sole prominent Democrat among those seeking to replace Davis, described himself in an interview as "separate and ... different" from the governor, and suggested that a Bustamante administration might cultivate warmer relations with the Legislature.

Bustamante is urging voters to oppose the recall but vote for him as a backstop candidate.

Davis began his day with a phone-in conversation with Los Angeles radio host Steve Harvey, whose morning show on KKBT-FM (100.3) reaches a heavily African American audience that may be crucial to Davis' hopes.

Later, Davis appeared near the beach in Santa Monica with Boxer, who praised his stewardship of California's coast. "I have to tell you," she said, gazing at the ocean, "this is what's at stake in this recall."

Davis used the occasion to trumpet his awarding of $53 million in coastal grants to be paid for with voter-approved bond money. Wednesday evening, he appeared at the first in a series of planned town hall-style meetings, this one sponsored by Channel One, the Primedia Inc. network that reaches thousands of public and private secondary schools throughout the country.

The governor's aides have advised him that if he is to avoid wholesale defections by Democratic voters he must act quickly to shore up support.

The mostly friendly audience at the Wednesday meeting peppered Davis with questions about his handling of the economy, the environment, education and about his history of aggressive fund-raising. Davis defended his record and took a swipe at Schwarzenegger.

"When people say they don't want to raise taxes, well, that's really appealing. But then you have to see what the consequences are," Davis said. "I would challenge Mr. Schwarzenegger to give us a complete plan on what cuts he wants to make."

In addition to Boxer, he received help from Feinstein, perhaps his most powerful supporter, who stumped against the recall in West Los Angeles and Watts. "The recall is not going to produce anything positive for the state of California," she told 500 business leaders in West L.A. "It will exacerbate instability. It will exacerbate uncertainty."

Feinstein told reporters that she plans to carry her anti-recall message throughout the state, and has agreed to tape a TV commercial opposing the recall.

She had a measured reaction to Davis' speech the night before, saying that he made some good points but needs to do a better job of communicating with voters.

Elsewhere Wednesday, Ueberroth's campaign debut came in a 45-minute news conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. While offering few specifics, the Laguna Beach entrepreneur said he supported an eventual rollback of the increase in vehicle license fees, or car tax, which the state Legislature approved as it struggled to close a $38-billion budget deficit. Though the state cannot afford to give up the car tax revenue now, Ueberroth said, he would roll it back by the end of his term.

Huffington, a former Republican who now labels herself a progressive, criticized Davis for spending millions of dollars in attorneys' fees to fight a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of poor and minority students.

A Davis aide said the ACLU has resisted the administration's settlement efforts. A spokeswoman for the ACLU said it has offered numerous concrete proposals that have been rejected.

Times staff writers Mitchell Landsberg, Scott Martelle, Patrick McGreevy, Doug Smith and Matea Gold contributed to this report.

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