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Davis, Actor Go Head to Head

Schwarzenegger and the governor cast the election as an either-or choice -- a strategy that helps both camps. Issa backs the Republican.

September 27, 2003|Michael Finnegan and Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger turned their focus on one another Friday in mutual efforts to frame the closing phase of the recall race as a showdown between the two of them.

The Democratic incumbent, renowned for brutal campaign ads against rivals, started running his first spot against the Republican actor, who has been attacking Davis in a commercial that began airing Monday.

"Why can't Arnold Schwarzenegger get his facts straight?" the narrator asks. "He has no experience, won't answer press questions, won't debate unless he has the questions in advance and didn't even bother to vote in 13 of the last 21 elections."

At a rally in Santa Monica, Schwarzenegger and his advisors also sought to cast the final stage of the race as a contest between the actor and the governor.

"The people have suffered enough under the hands of Gray Davis," Schwarzenegger said.

Both men were driven to promote a two-person race by their own strategic imperatives. Schwarzenegger's strategist, Mike Murphy, suggested that the actor had little to gain by engaging his rivals in the race to become Davis' successor.

"Our question now is, do we want to spend our time arguing with Cruz Bustamante, or Arianna Huffington, or the Green candidate, when the real question doesn't involve any of that," Murphy said. "It's whether you want Schwarzenegger or whether you want Davis. That's the question."

In the odd mathematics of the Oct. 7 recall election, Davis must win far more votes to keep his job than Schwarzenegger needs to take it. To survive the yes-or-no vote on the proposed recall of the governor, Davis must win more than 50% of the vote.

If Davis loses on the first part of the recall ballot, his job will go to whichever of the 135 replacement candidates gets the most votes. Thus, Schwarzenegger -- or either of his main rivals, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) -- could become governor with considerably less than 50% of the vote.

In internal campaign polls, Davis continues to fall a few points short of the vote he needs to remain in office. But the polls show a swing of several points in Davis' favor if voters believe his successor would not be Bustamante but Republican Schwarzenegger, Davis advisors said.

With polls showing the Republican vote split between Schwarzenegger and McClintock, the "Terminator" star continued to cast himself as the party's favorite. At the Santa Monica rally, Schwarzenegger picked up the endorsement of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the San Diego County Republican who financed the recall petition drive.

Issa, who abandoned his own campaign for governor, is one of the Schwarzenegger allies trying to pressure McClintock to drop out of the race. Schwarzenegger praised Issa for stepping aside, but did not mention McClintock by name.

"He did a selfless act," Schwarzenegger said of Issa. "He stepped aside to allow other candidates to be successful."

McClintock, who took a quick trip to Colorado on Friday to raise money from conservative activists, renewed his vow to stay in the race until the end. He took Schwarzenegger to task for taking advice from Democrats, including investor Warren Buffett and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

"It's not my idea of conservative governance," McClintock said at a brief appearance in Sacramento.

McClintock also chided Schwarzenegger for suggesting new state taxes on Indian casinos. McClintock, who has drawn substantial support from tribes, said he would include Indians in his promise not to raise taxes "for any Californians."

Independent spending by Indian tribes on television ads for McClintock has given a major boost to the senator's campaign. While McClintock has purchased $200,000 worth of television time statewide to run a new ad promising to solve California's fiscal problems without raising taxes, Indian tribes are spending four times that much on McClintock ads -- and still more on spots for Bustamante.

First Americans for a Better California, a campaign committee sponsored by the Pechanga and Sycuan tribes, has bought $1.5 million worth of television time, starting this weekend, for a spot attacking Schwarzenegger, according to a campaign consultant who tracks political ads.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians released two spots Friday, one for Bustamante and one for McClintock. A media officer for the tribe, Waltona Manion, said there was no inconsistency in backing both a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican.

The tribe supports "elected leaders who have had a long record for support of Indian self-reliance," Manion said.

Also joining the fray in the growing television ad war is the Republican Governors Assn., which hammered Bustamante and Davis in a television ad that began running Friday in Los Angeles.

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