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Crunch Time in Recall Race

Schwarzenegger appears to gain ground as McClintock's aide all but concedes. Camejo and Huffington reassess their campaigns.

September 29, 2003|Mitchell Landsberg, Matea Gold and Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to pick up momentum Sunday in his drive to unseat Gov. Gray Davis, with a new poll showing his candidacy on the ascent, and the campaign director for state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) all but conceding that the actor and fellow Republican was likely to win.

With just over a week left until California's first gubernatorial recall election, candidates adjusted their strategies to account for the new dynamics of a race that increasingly is becoming a showdown between Schwarzenegger and Davis.

Left-leaning independent candidate Arianna Huffington said she is reconsidering her role in the race, although she did not say she would drop out. Green Party candidate Peter Camejo said he is staying put, but will understand if supporters vote for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in order to stave off a Republican victory. Bustamante, for his part, tried to mend fences with Huffington, whom he had belittled in a debate last week, and expressed concern that Davis has not endorsed his candidacy.

With the political jockeying as a backdrop, Schwarzenegger took his campaign to the air, barnstorming through three small cities in less than five hours as he and his aides sounded increasingly confident of victory. "I am the kind of governor ... ," Schwarzenegger told a crowd of 1,500 in an airport hangar in Santa Maria, before correcting himself, "I will be the kind of governor...."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 01, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 2 inches; 98 words Type of Material: Correction
Recall -- An article in Section A on Monday erroneously stated that the San Diego Union-Tribune had not yet endorsed a candidate in the California recall campaign. The Union-Tribune endorsed Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday. The article also erred in stating that a CNN-USA Today poll conducted by the Gallup Organization relied on an assumption that turnout in the Tuesday election would be a relatively low 51%. That would be a low turnout of registered voters, but the poll assumed that turnout would be 51% of all voting-age adults, regardless of registration. That would be a relatively high turnout.

Schwarzenegger's appearances were larded with some of the most ferocious language of the campaign. "This is now hand-to-hand combat," he declared at one appearance in Redding, wagging his right index finger at the crowd. "We are not in the trenches. This is war."

There were no significant policy shifts evident in any of the campaigns Sunday, as the candidates hammered at familiar messages, sometimes with newly honed zeal. Davis, meanwhile, remained closeted in Los Angeles, conferring with aides and effectively yielding the campaign day to the candidates who seek to succeed him.

A new CNN-USA Today poll presented bleak numbers for the Democratic incumbent. The poll, which is conducted by Gallup, showed the recall succeeding 63% to 35%, and Schwarzenegger leading among the replacement candidates with 40% of the vote to 25% for Bustamante and 18% for McClintock.

That is a far wider margin for the recall, and far higher numbers for Schwarzenegger, than other recent polls have shown. A previous CNN-USA Today poll also had the recall leading by a higher margin than other polls.

Internal polls from some of the candidates' campaigns have shown a similar shift, but still show a much tighter race.

(The most recent Times poll, conducted three weeks ago, showed the recall to be a tossup, with Bustamante narrowly leading Schwarzenegger among the potential replacement candidates. A new Times poll is due out this week.)

The CNN-USA Today poll, conducted among 1,007 Californians between Thursday and Saturday, assumed a low turnout of 51% -- lower than election officials expect -- in determining which were the most likely voters. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, according to the pollsters.

The poll caught the McClintock campaign flat-footed, and campaign director John Feliz all but conceded that Schwarzenegger may be too far ahead to catch. In fact, he said that private polls -- though not one by McClintock's campaign -- had shown Schwarzenegger moving up after the candidates debate Wednesday, with Bustamante falling back and McClintock receiving a slight immediate uptick, then stabilizing.

"That's what we hear," Feliz said. "Arnold is moving and Tom has settled down, but Tom's not dropping. I still contend when this is done, Tom will beat Bustamante. He'll come in second.

"I think this whole thing about Tom being a spoiler has created the movement for Arnold. The voters are taking their second choice; Tom's their first choice."

McClintock himself was far more optimistic, sketching a scenario in which the dynamics of the race turned in his favor.

"By the time Davis and Schwarzenegger stop shooting at each other a lot can change," he said in an interview during a break at a candidates forum in Sacramento. "By the time all of the shooting is over, we could very well be the last candidate standing."

Still, Schwarzenegger has emerged in the last week as the popular choice within the Republican Party, and appeared likely to become the party's official choice today. The board of directors of the state GOP was planning to meet in Burbank to decide whether to issue an endorsement. Party leaders declined to endorse any candidate at the state party convention earlier this month.

The Sacramento candidates forum, hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander American Political Assn., drew four hopefuls -- Bustamante, Camejo, Huffington and McClintock -- each of whom delivered 15-minute speeches and answered questions. Before and after, they squeezed in interviews with reporters.

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