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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Democrats Work Crowds on Labor Day

Davis sounds apologetic and Bustamante appears fired up as he exhorts listeners. Their paths cross, but they don't appear together.

September 02, 2003|Gregg Jones and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis offered contrite words and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante took an aggressive stance toward his Republican rivals Monday as the state's two top Democrats crisscrossed California, trolling for support from Labor Day crowds.

Although the two men crossed paths, they rather conspicuously did not appear together -- underlining the continuing tension between their overlapping campaigns.

At stops in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, Davis pledged to change his approach to his job if voters in the Oct. 7 recall election let him keep it. Yet he stopped short of acknowledging that his job performance is driving voters' unhappiness, nor would he offer many specifics on what he would do differently.

"I know many Californians are angry," Davis said at his first rally, in downtown Los Angeles. "And trust me, this recall is a humbling experience. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. But if the good people of this state decide that they will allow me to finish the term to which they elected me, I promise you I will do some things differently. And I will work every day to make their life better."

Two of the chief Republican candidates in the recall also appeared publicly Monday. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at the state fair in Sacramento, where he worked at a voter registration table and blamed Davis for the state's loss of jobs. And Peter V. Ueberroth held a news conference to chide Schwarzenegger for turning down a debate scheduled for Wednesday. Schwarzenegger and his aides say they will participate in only one debate, sponsored by the California Broadcasters Assn. for later this month.

But the day was dominated by the Democrats, who used the opportunity provided by union-sponsored Labor Day events to press their sometimes conflicting messages.

Bustamante began the day in San Bernardino, where he told a union rally that voters should oppose the recall but vote for him as a Democratic fallback in case Davis loses.

"We'll beat 'em on both sides," he said. "And we should make sure that we have a strategy that, no matter which way this goes, that we're going to win.

"We will not capitulate on that second question," he said, referring to the part of the recall ballot on which voters get to choose a replacement for Davis in case he loses the recall.

Referring to his chief Republican rival, Bustamante added, "if Arnold thinks that he's going to get a pass, I mean.... " At that point, he flexed his arm and pointed to his biceps. The crowd roared.

"The voters are serious and they're not going to give him a pass, and that's the way it ought to be," Bustamante said. "Let's get out there and fight. Let's go beat these guys."

Although Davis and Bustamante both publicly urge voters to reject the recall, the tension between their campaigns has been noticeable ever since Bustamante put his name on the ballot over Davis' objections.

In recent weeks, the governor has praised Bustamante as the best of the potential successors, but he has not yet formally endorsed Bustamante.

Bustamante and many others in the Democratic establishment are calling for a more explicit "no/yes" approach to the two-part ballot: no on the recall; yes on Bustamante should Davis lose.

Both men appeared at the Alameda County Labor Day picnic in Pleasanton, but Davis, who spoke first, made no mention of the lieutenant governor, although he did refer to the "135 candidates" running to replace him on the recall ballot.

For his part, Bustamante took the stage in San Bernardino minutes after the governor's wife, Sharon, had finished speaking, and made no mention of the governor.

Davis began his day at Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, where Bishop Gavino Zavala, who delivered his Labor Day homily in English and Spanish, touched briefly on the political drama that has seized the state.

"As for the upcoming recall election, most commentators agree that it's only a consequence of decades of dysfunction of political parties and leaders who seemingly care more about doing the bidding of wealthy contributors than stopping the problems that confront working people," Zavala said as Davis, who was seated directly in front of him, listened.

From there, shedding his usual business suit for a Labor Day casual look of slacks and shirt without a tie, the governor went to the first of several rallies, where he complained about the unfairness of the recall effort and warned that it would trigger a cycle of poisonous politics, "breed more recalls, more campaigning, more recriminations, no matter who wins."

Later, both at the Los Angeles rally and in Pleasanton, he struck an apologetic tone that echoed a speech he made last month at UCLA.

In that speech, he accepted some measure of blame for not moving more quickly to head off the power crisis of 2000-01 or to tamp down state spending when California enjoyed healthy budget surpluses.

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