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The Recall Election | Cruz Bustamante

On Campaign's Final Day

Democrat Ponders What Might Have Been

October 08, 2003|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante lost his bid for California's highest office with the comfort of a man who knew he still would have his job the next morning.

In his concession speech Tuesday night, Bustamante promised to work with recall victor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his transition period. He also promised to be a watchdog, monitoring the Republican newcomer.

"I'm not moving across the hall to the governor's office," Bustamante said, "but I'm not going anywhere."

Bustamante jokingly urged Schwarzenegger to continue his globe-trotting movie career while in office.

"Go where you like. Feel free to stay as long as you like," he said, prompting a roar of laughter. "I'll be here keeping an eye on things."

Bustamante, the barber's son who sought to become the first Latino governor of California in more than a century, spent most of election day largely out of sight.

He arrived at the John Sims Elementary School a few blocks from his home in suburban Elk Grove about 9 a.m., spoke briefly with reporters before and after voting, then jetted to Fresno to accompany his parents to the polls.

At that point, Bustamante remained optimistic, hoping for a surge of support from wavering Democrats and independents.

But by the time his supporters gathered Tuesday evening at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, the talk had turned to Bustamante's political future.

The lieutenant governor's inner circle said his defeat would not derail his ambitions, pointing out that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and even Gov. Gray Davis had overcome similar setbacks.

"There will be another opportunity for Cruz," said Richie Ross, the political consultant who guided Bustamante's campaign.

Bustamante's first words to the crowd were not about his own fortunes but addressed the fate of Proposition 54, a ballot initiative that would bar California from collecting or using most kinds of racial or ethnic data. The measure, which Bustamante campaigned against vigorously, was defeated.

"California is saying, 'No more wedge politics,' " Bustamante said.

He lauded the state's Indian tribal governments, praising them for having "the will and resources to turn back the tide" on the measure.

In the election's closing days, however, he drifted into the shadows, and the race settled into a showdown between two men: Davis and Schwarzenegger.

Bustamante's regular-guy appeal faded beside Schwarzenegger's energy and star power. Ads spotlighting the millions of dollars in campaign donations Bustamante received from casino-owning Indian tribes angered voters -- and only associated him more with the unpopular Davis.

Although late polls showed that Bustamante was within a few points of Schwarzenegger, he never galvanized the broader support needed to counter the actor and conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock.

On Tuesday, Bustamante talked about the history-making speed of the campaign, suggesting that the race might have evolved differently had there been more time.

"A longer campaign time doesn't allow somebody not to discuss the issues," Bustamante said. "A longer campaign time isn't some publicity stunt."

Regardless of the result, Bustamante said, the recall has transformed the state, fueling passions impossible for state leaders to ignore. Voters are angry, he said.

"They're trying to make sure there are going to be some changes that take place," he said. "No matter what happens, I think Sacramento has been changed dramatically -- even if it's the same people in the same office."

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