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Ueberroth Pulls Out of Governor's Race

The Laguna Beach businessman had languished in the polls. Front-runners in the recall are quick to appeal to his supporters.

September 10, 2003|Scott Martelle and Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writers

Former sports czar Peter V. Ueberroth, who built a career by making long odds pay off, on Tuesday ended his bid to become California's next governor, saying there wasn't enough time left "for this candidacy to get across the goal line."

His departure winnowed the list of top contenders and better defined the battle with less than a month to go before the Oct. 7 recall election.

Although he is a Republican, Ueberroth was running as a centrist with bipartisan appeal, and the top three remaining candidates moved quickly to lay claim to his supporters.

Three hours after Ueberroth's announcement, state Sen. Tom McClintock asserted that he was gaining momentum and challenged fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to a "real Lincoln-Douglas debate."

Ueberroth's campaign said his decision to quit was not tied to the release of Field Poll results Monday that showed the Laguna Beach businessman drawing support from only 5% of likely voters and trailing the leaders, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Schwarzenegger, by at least 20 percentage points.

Given Ueberroth's relative low standing in the polls, his departure wasn't likely to give much of a bump to anyone, some analysts said.

"I wouldn't guess that it will have a huge impact, frankly," said Walter Stone, chairman of the UC Davis political science department. While it was unclear where Ueberroth's supporters might go, "there just aren't enough of them to make a huge difference."

What could be more significant is who Ueberroth endorses. He declined Tuesday to back any of his competitors, saying he intended to meet with the main contenders to find out who would best push his agenda to resolve the state's budget crisis through job creation.

Ueberroth brought a positive image and potentially millions of dollars to the campaign, and his backing could provide a possible lift to any of Gov. Gary Davis' challengers.

"He's still highly respected in Southern California, and his endorsement could have an impact on how people vote," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist.

Ueberroth, architect of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and former Major League Baseball commissioner, pledged to work with any governor to help resolve the state's financial problems. That offer included Davis, should he survive the Oct. 7 recall, although Ueberroth said he still supports the recall, does not consider Davis to be a candidate and would not consider endorsing him.

Despite quitting, Ueberroth said he felt as though his campaign was beginning to catch on. The problem was the calendar, which had been shortened by his own last-minute decision to run.

"We're not going to be able to climb the mountain fast enough," he said.

Ueberroth, the third major Republican to drop out of the race after recall financer Rep. Darrell Issa and Bill Simon, was the second leading money-raiser among the 135 original candidates. But he never broke out of the single digits in the polls.

He promised Tuesday the equivalent of a money-back guarantee to his supporters. He said he would return the more than $2.1 million contributed to his campaign -- largely by friends and business acquaintances -- and pay all of the bills himself, a tab aides said would exceed $2 million.

Ueberroth ended his bid much as he came in -- suddenly -- and gained more public attention with those two announcements than during his limited forays on the campaign trail.

In a campaign that has been marked by sharp words, reaction to Ueberroth's decision was gracious.

Schwarzenegger and McClintock issued statements lauding Ueberroth for running a positive campaign focused on issues, and each sought to align their campaigns with Ueberroth's budget-focused theme.

Schwarzenegger described Ueberroth's short run as "another chapter in a long and distinguished career."

"He has been a force for good, particularly his determination to focus public attention on the need to strengthen our economy if we are to restore the fiscal health of our state," Schwarzenegger said.

"We share core beliefs about the urgent need to restore the economic vitality of California and about the important steps that will achieve that result."

McClintock said he was "personally saddened" by the decision.

"He is an exceptionally qualified and capable candidate whose expertise will be missed in this campaign," McClintock said.

"His withdrawal intensifies my resolve to stay the course. It is essential that the people of California have a candidate who knows and understands the complexities of state government and who has the determination to defeat the spending lobby that controls it."

Bustamante called Ueberroth "a gentleman," said he would like to "sit down and talk to him about his ideas for job creation in California's economy" and said the departure would help his own campaign.

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