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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Davis Puts Out Debate Challenge

The governor accepts Larry King's invitation to meet Schwarzenegger, whose aide says the actor has 'more important things to do.'

September 28, 2003|Miguel Bustillo, Peter Nicholas and Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican front-runner in the race to replace him if he is recalled, traded fresh accusations of negative campaigning Saturday, each alleging the other is distorting his record.

With less than two weeks to go on the campaign trail, replacement candidates Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock continued to raise money and stump for votes. Bustamante characterized the Oct. 7 special election as anyone's to win, and McClintock predicted his own victory.

Davis on Saturday accepted an invitation from CNN's Larry King to debate Schwarzenegger on his program, while aides to the actor-turned-politician said he had no intention of giving the governor the chance to go on the attack.

"He is desperately reaching out for a face-to-face conversation, clearly in an attempt" to tear Schwarzenegger down, said Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Sean Walsh. "We have more important things to do."

Walsh cited Schwarzenegger's plans to travel by plane across the state today to speak directly to voters. Schwarzenegger had no public events Saturday.

Schwarzenegger declined to participate in a candidates' debate Sept. 17, electing instead to go on King's program the same night, appearing alone. At the time, his campaign staff said the choice had given him a broader audience than the debate would have allowed. His decision to attend only one of several offered debates has drawn criticism from opponents.

Davis campaign spokesman Peter Ragone said the governor would continue to challenge Schwarzenegger to debate. The governor's campaign says Schwarzenegger's television ads have misrepresented Davis' record, particularly on the health of the California's economy and the state budget.

"If you have the audacity to distort the facts in ads, you should have the courage to defend them in a debate," Ragone said.

McClintock told reporters Saturday before a $50-a-plate fund-raiser in La Canada Flintridge that he thought both Davis and Schwarzenegger had gone negative in their campaigns, doing a disservice to voters.

McClintock, expressing confidence that he could overtake all replacement candidates by election day, despite never leading in the polls, said Davis "excels in slamming his opponents.... I think the voters are sick and tired of it."

But, as a target of criticism from Schwarzenegger's camp for taking money from Indian tribes, he said his Republican rival had been "attacking the integrity of the other candidates in the race."

For their part, Schwarzenegger's campaign staff and supporters said Davis' most recent ad misrepresented their candidate's record by saying that he had no experience and that he had not voted regularly.

Walsh said Schwarzenegger's business experience, including having to balance budgets and deal with workers' compensation, made him "of all major candidates uniquely qualified" to deal with the state's economy. As for Schwarzenegger's voting record, Walsh said that the campaign could show that he had requested and received absentee ballots for past elections, but that they did not know why the ballots, which Walsh said had been completed and returned, had not been recorded by election officials.

As charges flew between the two campaigns, with Schwarzenegger aides joining a conference call with former Secretary of State Bill Jones and Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) to denounce what they said was Davis' "return to puke politics," the governor defended himself.

"I don't know what the definition of that is, but let me just say this: Mr. Schwarzenegger is twisting the truth. He is running down California just to build himself up," said Davis, appearing at the Claude Pepper Senior Center in West Los Angeles, where he signed legislation and played bingo.

"I am not going to stand for it. Every time I hear a falsehood uttered by Mr. Schwarzenegger, you're going to hear the facts from me," the governor said.

His aides then produced a large poster, which Davis used as a visual aid to explain to the crowd spending by previous governors.

"Every governor since 1956 has spent money at a faster rate per capita than I have. I have facts to back that up. Mr. Schwarzenegger doesn't," said Davis. He then acknowledged that George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson -- both Republicans -- had spent less in their first terms.

But Campbell, speaking on behalf of Schwarzenegger, said Davis was misrepresenting the state budget and the seriousness of the state's fiscal crisis. Campbell said Davis had signed a budget before being reelected last year that he said was balanced, only to come back later and announce a $30-billion shortfall -- and was still "hiding the truth."

"He's doing it again in saying Arnold Schwarzenegger is overstating the state's fiscal problems. He again signed a budget that he said was balanced, and it will not be balanced," said Campbell, noting that some of the savings counted on in the current budget already have been rejected by the courts.

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