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The state senator scoffs at withdrawing -- not while he's having so much fun

September 11, 2003|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — His public day began at 8:30 a.m. with an interview at a Sacramento television station. By the evening's end, he had conducted half a dozen more interviews, been trailed around the state Capitol by a "Today" show camera crew and rebuffed a member of Congress who urged the candidate to drop out of the race for governor.

State Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) clearly is enjoying the attention.

"This is what I do and this is what I care about," he said. "Any opportunity I have to discuss the future direction of California and the plans I want to see enacted, I'm just delighted to take every opportunity I can."

The focus on McClintock has been intense for days, but it stepped up Wednesday after Peter V. Ueberroth dropped out of the race for governor, leaving McClintock as the main target of Republican efforts to clear the field for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With the attention, of course, come those nagging questions about whether he plans to drop out.

A congressman from the Midwest -- McClintock would not say who -- called Wednesday on behalf of the Schwarzenegger campaign to ask him to give up his candidacy, McClintock said. The two men talked. McClintock said he told the congressman about what he sees as Schwarzenegger's liberal positions: opposition to Proposition 54, the ballot measure that would bar the state from collecting data on people's race, and a campaign circle that includes Democrat Robert Kennedy Jr. (cousin of his wife, Maria Shriver).

"And I went through a long list of such things, none of which this congressman knew," McClintock said. "And by the end of the conversation he says, 'Good for you. Sorry to have bothered you. You're doing the right thing.' "

That congressman fared better than one of his colleagues, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who has been an advisor to Schwarzenegger's campaign. When Dreier phoned recently, McClintock did not even take the call, referring it to his campaign staff.

Members of the media ask the question too -- in nearly every interview.

"I find myself having to answer that question over and over again," McClintock said in his Capitol office, decorated with a picture of an elephant. "The plea that I make is if you can think of a more unequivocal way to answer it, let me know, and I'll be happy to use that. I can't think of a clearer way to put it: I'm in this race till the finish line."

He added that he feels good about his position. While Schwarzenegger has not gained much ground since his entry into the race, McClintock said he is rising steadily in the polls, giving him no reason to bow out.

"When I got in this race I was a mere asterisk behind even Peter Camejo in the Green Party," he said. "And in the span of just three or four weeks I've moved into a very solid third place position, in double digits, with all the momentum on my side."

Still, the question keeps coming. Bill Simon Jr. also had proclaimed he was in the race until the end. Then he withdrew. Many politicians and political strategists -- particularly those close to the Schwarzenegger campaign -- insist it is only a matter of time before McClintock folds.

In an afternoon interview with Fox News, McClintock rattled off his plans for the hours between his swearing-in and lunch: Rescind the car tax increase, void the power contracts signed by Gov. Gray Davis and call a special session to overhaul workers' compensation.

But later in the interview he was back at "the question."

"I don't believe there is a possibility of a meeting of the minds between me and Schwarzenegger as long as he has as his chief fiscal advisor Warren Buffett, the most outspoken advocate for higher taxes in the country, and has as his environmental advisor Robert Kennedy Jr.," he said.

So was that a signal? Would he drop out if Schwarzenegger dumped Buffett and Kennedy? He later told a reporter that he was hinting at no such thing. It's all getting a bit frustrating.

"What about 'no' don't you understand?" he asked.

At least the Senate floor offers a reprieve of sorts. McClintock tries to avoid campaigning outside Sacramento when the Senate is in session.

On the Senate floor, John Burton, the body's Democratic president pro tem, has taken to ribbing McClintock. An official who had worked in the legislative counsel's office was retiring to pursue volunteer work. Burton suggested the man might as well stay where he was because if McClintock were elected, there would not be enough paid workers left to run the state.

From his place at the dais, Burton (D-San Francisco) also has been calling McClintock by a new name: "Governor."


Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.

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