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The Recall Election | Gray Davis

On Campaign's Final Day

Governor Is Resolute in the Face of Defeat

October 08, 2003|Gregg Jones and Alan Zarembo | Times Staff Writers

It was always about goodbye.

The man who made his political reputation as a perennial campaigner kept a brave face through rote political visits Tuesday, even as top aides knew it was all over but the crying.

The ax that had hovered over the governor's neck fell less than a minute after the polls closed, when television networks called the race for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Throughout the day, Davis had remained resolute, even buoyant, while his staff grew ever more glum around him. Most guarded what they said while the polls remained open. Davis cast his vote at his West Hollywood polling place shortly before noon.

Although Davis told reporters that he "always trusted the voters of California," his top campaign aides admitted that the voters probably had just ended the governor's five-year tenure.

Campaign communications director Peter Ragone quietly observed that the outlook was grim shortly after Davis' appearance, and, a short while later, campaign manager Larry Grisolano conceded that the governor still had ground to make up. Still, Davis pressed on, his wife, Sharon, at his side.

If Davis was down, he was not telling.

"I feel absolutely terrific," Davis said. "I have always trusted the voters of California. I know they're going to do the right thing today. This is a big day for California."

Davis apparently did not leave it entirely to the voters. He left for a Mass at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills, an election day tradition.

Farewell motifs nonetheless crept into his speech as the day progressed.

"I am so proud of you," Davis told enthusiastic precinct walkers at an El Monte union hall.

"I am very grateful to you. I'm very grateful to this state. You've given me wonderful opportunities to serve."

By the time he appeared on CNN with Larry King, Davis was more direct.

"Well, it wasn't my happiest moment," he said of the recall, "but I knew it was coming for a long time, so we've put on the best campaign we could in 77 days. Even though California has problems, we've made some progress."

Later, in an upstairs staff room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, advisor Kevin Biggers looked at election returns on his computer terminal.

"I'm not throwing in the white flag," he said. But it was just a matter of time.

In the minutes before taking the stage for his concession speech, Davis steeled himself in his 11th-floor suite, meticulously going over the speech with a black Sharpie pen.

"He was dignified and thoughtful and focused," Ragone said. "It was sad, because the voters of this state don't see this side of Gray Davis."

Davis didn't shed tears, but some in the room did. The governor gave rare hugs to those who had guided him to the greatest triumphs of his political career.

"It's obviously a very sobering experience for him," said Steve Smith, the governor's campaign director and longtime advisor. "This is hard. He's spent 30-odd years in politics, and he's only lost one election."

The ballroom began filling, and Davis, his expression more downtrodden, made his way downstairs to say goodbye shortly after 9:30 p.m.

"This state has been very good to me," he told supporters. "It's elected me five times statewide, given me a chance to serve, given me a chance to meet some of the greatest people on the planet, and I will always be indebted to you."

When he was done, his mother, who had accompanied him on campaign stops through the day, left the ballroom in tears.

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