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Davis, Bustamante Put on a Show of Party Unity

Delegates endorse the lieutenant governor at the Democratic convention. Leaders say the appearance displays a single purpose.

September 14, 2003|Megan Garvey and Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante appeared together Saturday for the first time in the recall campaign, shaking hands and smiling before a crowd of raucous Democrats.

The unexpected encounter, billed by party leaders as a sign they are unified to defeat the recall, came minutes before delegates to a special caucus voted overwhelmingly to endorse Bustamante -- the only major Democrat running to replace Davis if he is voted out of office in the Oct. 7 special election.

Midway through Davis' speech to the delegates, Bustamante made his way next to him. Davis, for a moment, seemed startled to find him there.

"Bienvenidos, Mr. Lieutenant Governor," Davis said. "People wanted to see when we were going to stand together. Well, here we are."

As the more than 600 delegates stood and cheered, "No Recall," Bustamante joined the chant from the stage, thrusting his fist to the words and applauding as the governor urged his party to defeat Proposition 54, an initiative on the October ballot that would prohibit the state from gathering many forms of racial data.

The show of unity came after weeks in which the two Democrats worked at cross-purposes. Since the recall was certified, Davis has wanted Democrats to focus solely on its defeat and not be caught up in discussions over his replacement. He has yet to endorse Bustamante.

The lieutenant governor initially argued against the recall but has also sniped at Davis, and said recently that his main focus must be on winning the second half of the ballot.

As he left the convention hall Saturday, Davis said of their joint appearance: "That was a good thing. We're both against the recall. We're both standing together."

Bustamante, who spoke after winning the endorsement, stressed he was "not in competition with Gray Davis. I'm running against [Republicans] Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Tom" McClintock, a state senator from Thousand Oaks.

And he offered his most extensive comments to date about Davis' record in office, crediting the governor with signing or promising to sign bills ranging from financial privacy to domestic partner rights.

"We must protect all that we have fought for and won," he said. "We must defeat this recall."

After the meeting, Bustamante traveled to Las Vegas for a fund-raiser at the MGM Grand hotel, where he also sat ringside at the Oscar De La Hoya-Shane Mosley bout.

The day's events seemed to signal a new, more combative phase in Davis' campaign to keep his job. In his remarks, he said he made no apologies for investing state resources in education, health care and infrastructure.

The meeting kicked off what, for Davis, will be a week with Democratic leaders from around the country. Today, former President Clinton will join Davis at First AME Church in Los Angeles. Jesse Jackson and two Democratic senators running for president, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Bob Graham of Florida, are scheduled to attend anti-recall events.

Late Saturday, after delivering a speech in Indianola, Iowa, Clinton spoke against the recall. He said the Republican-led effort to remove Davis from office could set a dangerous precedent.

"If it's wrong, you vote them out next time or bring in new leadership," Clinton said. "But you don't second-guess somebody in the middle."

On Saturday, Davis cast himself as the latest Democrat to be targeted by Republicans. With the lights dimmed, he entered the room at the Los Angeles Convention Center to the theme music from "Rocky." Davis called the attempt to recall him -- as well as Republican efforts in Texas to swing congressional seats in their favor, the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 presidential vote recount in Florida -- "nothing less than an assault on our elections."

"Everyone knows Democrats have a heart," he said. "Now we're going to show them we have a spine."

Davis said Republicans Schwarzenegger and McClintock, both seeking to replace him as governor, have "run down this great state" in their political ads and statements.

"Your campaign of distortion and deception stops right here," he said, adding that the latest economic news indicated that the California economy was turning around. Davis also disputed the Republican message that he has driven business out of the state with his policies, citing a net gain of 800,000 jobs in California during his administration, despite the loss of more than 2 million jobs nationwide.

Throughout his remarks, the crowd occasionally broke into a chant of "Recall Bush."

At one point, Davis said: "Very hard to quarrel with your logic."

Earlier, before the vote on an endorsement, state party Chairman Art Torres sought to distinguish Democrats from Republicans meeting the same day in Los Angeles. At their convention, Republicans presented Schwarzenegger and McClintock but, in accordance with their bylaws, did not endorse.

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