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THE STATE | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

McClintock Ignores Clamor to Quit

Encouraged by his climb in the polls, the candidate vows to stay in the race despite calls to withdraw from some in the GOP. He is used to going it alone.

September 24, 2003|James Rainey and Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writers

State Sen. Tom McClintock has been hearing for weeks that he is fouling up Arnold Schwarzenegger's sprint to the California governorship -- splitting the Republican vote and costing his party its best chance at statewide office in years.

Now some GOP stalwarts have upped the ante, suggesting that McClintock could actually drag down the recall itself--as Republican partisans rethink their plans to vote against Gov. Gray Davis for fear they might hand the office to a more liberal Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

So where does all this pressure leave the conservative legislator from Thousand Oaks?

Unmoved, on message and driving hard toward an Oct. 7 election he insists he can win.

McClintock's commitment to staying in the race has been clear in his unyielding public statements. Those who might still doubt his willingness to go his own way might be swayed by reviewing his history--one filled with lonely stands, often for lost causes.

The former assemblyman and now state senator, after all, campaigned for Barry Goldwater for president at age 8 and battled California's last two Republican governors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, who helped push McClintock so far outside the party establishment that he received little formal GOP backing in his previous runs for statewide office.

The sometimes lonely backbencher, his ideas ignored in the Democrat-dominated Senate, suddenly finds himself the standard-bearer of true conservatives, perhaps paving the way for a future run for governor. Thrust into the public, he receives slaps on the back, shouts of "Beat Arnold!" and even tears of apparent devotion.

McClintock, 47, normally holds his narrow lips pressed tightly together. But, asked about the throng that greeted him enthusiastically at an anti-car-tax rally in Anaheim last Thursday, he broke into a wide smile and conceded: "It felt good."

"The emotion in people's eyes was very real," he went on. "It's something I've never seen in politics. It's people not just caring but riveted on the future. It really is democracy coming alive."

McClintock repeated again Tuesday that he is long past the point of leaving the race, having committed to thousands of donors and supporters to stay the course.

"I made a promise when I entered this race that I would be in it to the finish line," he said, "and I keep my promises."

Earlier, McClintock said in an interview that Schwarzenegger's beliefs are so unclear he could not, in good conscience, turn his support over to the actor.

"How can I get out of the race, when I don't even understand what he believes in?" he said. "I certainly don't know. Do you?"

Schwarzenegger on Tuesday suggested for the first time that McClintock should consider getting out of the race, lest he hand the election to the Democrats. And Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) endorsed the actor, saying that a split GOP could even "put at risk" the recall itself, as conservatives might shy away from ousting the governor if they thought Bustamante would succeed him.

Although he insists he bears no ill will toward the GOP establishment, McClintock and party leaders have a somewhat rocky history. Last year, for example, McClintock was outspent 5-to-1 by Steve Westly in the race for state controller, and lost to Westly by fewer than 17,000 votes. The Republican party, focused more on the top of the ticket, came to his aid too late and cost him the election, some McClintock supporters believe.

And McClintock has particular animus for Wilson, whom he called "one of the worst" governors in state history, largely because he approved a record tax increase. Of Wilson's onetime staffers, now working for Schwarzenegger, McClintock says they support "bigger and ever-more-expensive government at a time when the growth of government can no longer be sustained by the economy."

Polls unconnected to the candidates have found McClintock lagging but gaining ground on Bustamante and Schwarzenegger, who lead the race to replace Davis if he is recalled. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, released over the weekend, found Bustamante backed by 28% of likely voters, Schwarzenegger favored by 26% and McClintock third at 14%.

Many analysts believe most of McClintock's votes would go to Schwarzenegger if the state senator dropped out. But the maverick lawmaker views the race differently. Because he moved up 9 percentage points from his showing in the institute's previous poll, McClintock said he was "on the move" while the actor's relatively stable support from about one-quarter of voters leaves him "dead in the water."

With only a fraction of Schwarzenegger's money, McClintock throws himself into multiple "free" media opportunities a day -- radio and television interviews. He believes that after polls show him moving even closer to the actor, Republicans will move to his column, realizing he can win.

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