SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Saturday denounced the recall effort against Gov. Gray Davis and said she was not interested in replacing him.
"I have no intention of running," Feinstein, a Democrat, told reporters in her first public statement of her plans related to a recall election. "I'm a U.S. senator and I'm seriously involved in what I do."
She called the campaign to oust Davis "one of the worst things that could happen to the state of California."
Feinstein, a popular figure in California, had been viewed as the Democrat who could step in at the last minute -- if it became clear that Davis would be removed -- and keep her party in control of the biggest state government in the nation.
Last week, all of California's Democratic statewide officeholders took themselves out of consideration, including Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. All three may run for governor in 2006, and appearing on a recall ballot would have provided an early start.
Feinstein had called the trio and other elected officials to urge them to oppose the recall campaign, though she had not ruled out her own candidacy until Saturday.
"I am doing my utmost against it," she said on leaving an opening ceremony for the long-awaited Bay Area Rapid Transit system station at San Francisco International Airport.
Davis has discouraged other Democrats from putting their names on the ballot if a special election occurs. His strategists say that if his opponents gain enough signatures for a recall measure, his odds of staying in office will be best if no well-known Democrats are listed as potential successors.
And a Democratic Party united against the recall could buttress the governor's contention that the campaign is an attempt by Republicans to redo the 2002 election they lost.
A recall question would ask voters whether they want Davis removed, and at the same time ask them to choose a replacement from a list of candidates. An unlimited number could then run and the one with the most votes would win, even if no candidate obtained a majority.
Recall supporters say they have gathered almost half of the nearly 900,000 valid voter signatures they need to submit by September to force a vote on whether to show Davis the door. They blame the governor for the state's fiscal troubles. Davis' popularity has plummeted during the protracted debate over the state budget.
Feinstein criticized the recall process, which has never before reached the ballot in a gubernatorial contest. She complained that Davis could lose on the recall question by 51% to 49%, then be supplanted by someone earning a bare plurality of the vote among the would-be replacements. That person could have as little as 20% or 15% of the vote, Feinstein said.
"I view this recall as a very flawed process," said Feinstein, who defeated a recall measure when she was mayor of San Francisco in the 1980s.
"The recall is really there for gross moral turpitude, corruption or some extraneous terrible circumstance in which you have to remove somebody from office," she said. "Now the state's having a rough time. So is every other state in the union right now."
Roger Salazar, Davis' political spokesman, characterized Feinstein's statements as "one more indication that Democrats are united in fighting the recall."
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has given $800,000 to support the quest for a special election, and hopes to run on such a ballot. Other Republicans who have expressed interest are former gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr. and state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Northridge); actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's name also has been raised.
Feinstein's impromptu comments came against a backdrop of Democratic unity. Minutes before, she was seated next to Davis on a makeshift dais in front of the new BART station in the airport's international terminal.
Both had taken turns speaking about the long-delayed train-to-plane project, along with a dozen other local, state and federal officeholders, most of them Democrats. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a longtime Davis ally, addressed the election issue from the dais unprompted, describing recall advocates as "a bunch of spoiled losers who couldn't, under any circumstances," defeat Davis "in a one-to-one contest."
The BART station festivities included such TV news staples as a two-foot-high check from U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and the cutting of a blue ribbon by as many hands as could fit on the scissors.
Feinstein, U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and the other speakers told political war stories about the many battles waged to extend the train line. And they congratulated each other and many of the more than 300 politicians, bureaucrats and other supporters in the audience.
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan in Los Angeles and Dan Morain in Sacramento contributed to this report.