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Candidates Keep Up Oct. 7 Pace

Leading contenders are still campaigning as if the recall election will occur on schedule.

September 17, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

With doubt looming over the date of California's gubernatorial recall vote, the top candidates moved forward Tuesday on a gamble that they still have less than three weeks left to campaign.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger took questions at a campaign forum in Los Angeles while his GOP rival Tom McClintock worked the talk-radio circuit. Gov. Gray Davis campaigned across the state, and fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante put his first television commercial on the air.

"I understand it's a risk, but the whole thing has been a risk," said Richie Ross, Bustamante's campaign manager.

The recall race has indeed tied campaign strategists in knots as they struggle to figure out how to capture California's top public office in the special election. By postponing the Oct. 7 election -- perhaps until March -- in a ruling Monday, a federal appeals court panel put them in a deeper quandary about how to proceed. Then Tuesday the full court whipsawed the campaign again when it opened the door to reconsidering the panel's decision.

The biggest open question for the candidates: Does it still make sense to spend millions of dollars on TV ads over the next 20 days for an election that could wind up being more than five months away?

"It's going to drive every campaign crazy, but they've got to do it," said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "They have no choice."

Otherwise, he said, they could wind up squandering the little time they have left to build support if the election is held Oct. 7. Moreover, absentee voters continue to send in their ballots regardless of the court action.

While waiting to see if the ruling by the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will be overturned, candidates and their advisors agreed that they must assume the election will occur as scheduled.

"It has not affected our campaign in any way," McClintock said Tuesday at a Santa Monica news conference.

For Davis, the chance of imminent U.S. Supreme Court intervention in an election case that turns on the use of punch-card-ballots appeared -- at least initially -- to reinforce one of his key arguments against the recall. For weeks, he and other Democrats have invoked the Florida vote count fiasco of the 2000 presidential race in arguing that California's recall is part of a Republican plot to steal elections they can't win at the ballot box.

Davis, who plans to campaign Friday with Al Gore, picked up that theme Tuesday, recalling the "sorry episode" of Florida at a Century City news conference with former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, now a U.S. senator running for president.

In California, "I hope that every vote that is cast is actually counted," Davis said, borrowing a frequent Gore line from the Florida election impasse.

Graham, a fellow Democrat, said: "It is my honor to be here on behalf of sanity in the political process of California."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson made a similar case as he campaigned with Davis on Tuesday afternoon at a San Francisco church.

"We cannot let them do to California what they did to Florida!" Jackson shouted to the predominantly African American crowd of 500 in the Third Baptist Church gymnasium. "Hold on to your vote."

Davis media advisor David Doak said the governor would not scale back spending on television in response to the election postponement. The court ruling, he said, reinforces the message of an ad currently on the air; it calls the recall a circus with "millionaires, local gadflies, political mavericks, even a porn king" vying to lead a state with "the world's fifth-largest economy."

"It's now the perfect ad to have on the air," Doak said.

While the delay of the election helps Davis, he said, it could harm Schwarzenegger by putting the actor under more sustained and serious scrutiny by the media.

But Schwarzenegger strategist Mike Murphy said he expects the final outcome of the court case to be an Oct. 7 election after all. Davis strategists "are whistling past the graveyard if they think this election is in March," Murphy said. "Hasta la vista, March. We're in for October."

Schwarzenegger, too, has made no changes in his ad plans.

"We're not going to change a thing, because we're going to have an election on Oct. 7," said Schwarzenegger media strategist Don Sipple.

Schwarzenegger has also stuck to his campaign schedule, taking questions from invited guests at a forum on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

"On Oct 7, we will recall Gray Davis and say, 'Hasta la vista, baby,' " Schwarzenegger said.

This morning, Schwarzenegger plans to appear on the Howard Stern radio show, and tonight he is to be interviewed by Larry King on CNN.

McClintock has not had enough money to advertise on the scale of Davis and Schwarzenegger. Although McClintock said the court ruling would have no impact on his candidacy, his campaign director, John Feliz, said they were trying to reorganize.

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