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Many Democrats Have Turned Against Davis

The governor is struggling to regain the support of those who may be his last hope.

October 04, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Eileen Krause has considered herself a Democrat since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but she feels no compunction about tossing California's Democratic governor out of office in next week's recall election.

"That wishy-washy one, we should have let him go a long time ago," said the 78-year-old Fort Bragg resident, who already cast her absentee ballot for the recall. "He's not too good dealing with people. I think he's just in it for himself."

The estrangement Krause and many of her fellow Democrats feel from Gov. Gray Davis could mean the difference between his holding onto his job and being removed from it a year into his second term. A recent Los Angeles Times poll showed that the share of Democrats favoring the recall had climbed from 19% to 27% in several weeks.

Nearly a dozen voters surveyed by the poll said in follow-up interviews that they continue to support the recall even after a report this week detailing accusations of sexual misconduct by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading candidate to replace Davis.

"They may be true, but my question is, 'Why wouldn't these women come forward before?' " asked Loreen McCoy, a 58-year-old nurse from San Diego. "I think this is part of a smear campaign Davis is doing."

Such sentiments are bad news for the governor, whose last hope in defeating the recall lies in winning over the vast majority of Democrats in the final days of the race, party leaders acknowledge.

Davis has spent much of the last two months trying to appeal to rank-and-file Democrats, both through popular surrogates like former President Clinton and a message tailored to energize their partisan fervor.

The governor has described the recall as an effort by Republicans to sabotage a Democratic administration, comparing the measure to the controversial results of the 2000 presidential election and Clinton's impeachment.

A longtime centrist, Davis has referred to himself as a "progressive" and has signed into law a flurry of bills aimed at bolstering his support among more liberal constituencies, from legislation granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants to a measure expanding domestic partnership benefits. He has warned that Schwarzenegger, a Republican, will roll back environmental and worker protections.

But many Democrats remain unmoved. Their resentment of Davis runs deep, they said, driven by disgust at his political behavior and frustration with his cautious brand of leadership.

"It's too little, too late," said Kenneth Rankin, a 36-year-old airport maintenance manager from Corona.

Some of the discontent stems from a perception that Davis simply has not been a strong governor. Rankin, like several other voters, said he became disillusioned with Davis during the state's energy crisis.

"I just don't feel like he had the strength then to get us the rates we needed," he said.

For these disgruntled Democrats, Davis' appeal to party fidelity has had little effect.

"I'm going to vote on the individual person and what they say," said Rod Butler, a university professor who lives in Redondo Beach. "I don't have a D tattooed on my body."

Butler, 56, said his support for the recall crystallized when Davis signed into law the measure giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses -- after vetoing it twice before. The move was widely viewed as an effort by the governor to energize Latino voters.

"I was trying to hang onto some reason not to [support the recall], but that pushed me over the edge," he said. "It was such a blatantly politically motivated thing."

"To me, it's kind of a leadership issue," Butler added. "I want someone to have the courage to lay a lot on the line and step out there and not just do things for political expediency."

Butler said he's leaning toward voting for Schwarzenegger to replace Davis, adding that the way the actor handled the sexual harassment allegations impressed him.

"I heard his response to it, and it seemed honest, which is probably the most compelling thing about the guy: He seems forthright and honest," he said.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who has offered his candidacy as a Democratic alternative in case the recall succeeds, has gotten little traction with many of the pro-recall Democrats. In the Times poll, Schwarzenegger had a 2-to-1 lead over Bustamante among those voters.

Several said they view the lieutenant governor as an extension of Davis, another politician who, in their view, follows the cues of moneyed special interests. In recent weeks, Bustamante was criticized for accepting large donations from Indian tribes into an old campaign committee, allowing him to skirt campaign finance rules.

"I'm hearing things about Bustamante that I don't like," said Jon Paul Valdez, a 35-year-old car insurance salesman who lives in West Los Angeles. "He's not giving a good explanation what he's doing with some of those contributions."

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