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Candidates Voice Stands on Immigration as Race Tightens

September 21, 2003|Michael Finnegan, Peter Nicholas and Tony Perry | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Candidates for governor fanned out across California and offered sharply contrasting stands on immigration Saturday in a vivid display of the polarization of the recall race.

At a rally of mainly Latino union members outside San Francisco City Hall, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis reminded the cheering crowd that he had signed a bill to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Striking the same theme near the Mexican border, at a labor rally in El Centro, was Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat vying to replace the governor.

"They need a driver's license," Bustamante told 250 supporters gathered at a park in the heat. "They need to be respected."

Meanwhile, at an Orange County yacht club, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) vowed to crack down on illegal immigration and called the driver's license legislation "the most dangerous that I've seen in my career."

McClintock's Republican rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, stressed his background as an Austrian immigrant as he campaigned Saturday in Riverside, but did not mention his opposition to the driver's license bill.

Overall, the recall race appears to be tightening, according to a poll released Saturday. The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 53% of likely voters support recalling Davis while 42% oppose it. The results mark an improvement for the unpopular governor: Last month, the institute found 58% of likely voters for the recall and 36% against it.

The new poll underscored the deep partisan divide of the recall campaign. While roughly two out of three Democrats oppose the recall, 86% of Republicans support it, the poll found.

It also found a close contest among candidates running to replace Davis if he is recalled, with Bustamante at 28%, followed by Schwarzenegger at 26% and McClintock at 14%.

Schwarzenegger allies have pressured McClintock to bow out of the race to unite Republicans behind one candidate and spare the party another loss in a state that has snubbed the GOP in recent elections. But McClintock, who has built a loyal following among conservatives and who surged upward from 5% in last month's poll, said he was gaining momentum while Schwarzenegger was "dead in the water."

McClintock told a breakfast crowd at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Corona del Mar that people often say he is more interested in principles than victory. "My response to that is, if you stick to your principles, ultimately you do win, and if you don't stick to your principles, what's the point of winning?"

In Riverside, Schwarzenegger denounced the tripling of the state's car tax. "That tax may not matter much to me, but it matters to the family struggling to get by," he told a crowd of several hundred.

Schwarzenegger reported giving his own campaign $2.5 million on Saturday, bringing his total personal contribution to $6 million. He also has raised money aggressively from outside donors, including developers, agriculture executives and others with stakes in state business. Outside donors have contributed about $5.3 million.

Schwarzenegger held private campaign fund-raisers before and after the Riverside rally. Still, he told the crowd: "We don't want politicians to get money from special interests behind closed doors, and then have to pay them back."

On the Democratic side, Davis and Bustamante appealed to their party's core constituencies.

In San Francisco, Davis campaigned in the predominantly gay Castro district with U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who is running for president. When they emerged from greeting diners at Cafe Flore on Market Street, several dozen bystanders applauded Davis for signing a bill Friday that will expand the legal rights of domestic partners.

From a sidewalk podium, Davis said Republicans were "trying to recall the progress we've made, whether it's domestic partnerships, whether it's fighting George Bush to protect our environment, whether it's the toughest gun safety laws in America or whether it's five years of progress in improving our schools."

"We want to say in the clearest possible terms: Do not tamper with our democracy."

Later, at the rally across from City Hall, Davis spoke at a send-off for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a cross-country bus convoy organized by labor unions and civil rights groups to push for legal status for millions of illegal immigrants.

Standing alongside farm-labor icon Dolores Huerta, Davis told the crowd of several hundred that California's economy could not thrive without immigrants who "toiled under the hot sun to put food on our table."

"I'm not going to make someone get up at 2 in the morning to take public transit to get in the fields by 5," Davis said. "They deserve the right to drive to work. They deserve the right to drive their children to school."

Still, Davis declined to take a position on the goal of the bus rides: legal status for illegal immigrants. "I am not taking positions on federal issues," he said.

Times staff writers Janet Wilson and Dan Morain contributed to this report.

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