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GOP Council Backs Actor

Endorsements from the state party and a group of business taxpayers accompany an apparent Schwarzenegger surge. Huffington may quit.

September 30, 2003|Joe Mathews, Daryl Kelley and Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger picked up endorsements Monday from the California Republican Party leadership and a group representing corporate taxpayers, swelling a sense of confidence in his campaign and unsettling his rivals in the race to recall and replace Gov. Gray Davis.

The endorsements particularly stung state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who complained that Schwarzenegger was taking advantage of backroom politics. The actor's apparent surge in recent days also set off alarms in liberal circles, with independent candidate Arianna Huffington meeting with supporters to decide whether she should drop out and throw her support to Davis.

As the campaign narrowed to something resembling a traditional two-candidate race, Davis' camp accused Schwarzenegger's campaign of resorting to dirty tricks.

Schwarzenegger and Davis spent the day on the stump, honing their attacks on each other and appealing for votes from their core constituencies. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is the only prominent Democrat running as a replacement candidate, had a light campaign schedule.

With the campaign down to its final week, the airwaves were thick with TV commercials by the candidates and outside interests.

Davis' anti-recall committee ran a new ad listing accomplishments on his watch, and another criticizing Schwarzenegger for failing to vote in a number of elections. A new Schwarzenegger ad attacked Indian casinos, while one for Bustamante opposed cuts in funding for community colleges. A McClintock commercial emphasized his opposition to the car tax and Sacramento's spending.

Schwarzenegger has been building a head of steam since a debate Wednesday that apparently gave him a boost in the polls. Adding to that were the two endorsements Monday, from the executive board of the state Republican Party and the California Taxpayers Assn. Both were departures for the groups, reflecting the unprecedented nature of the election.

The action by 17 members of the GOP's state board came two weeks after party leaders declined to choose between Schwarzenegger and McClintock at their statewide convention in Los Angeles.

"We cannot afford three more years of pay-to-play government," state GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim told reporters at party headquarters in Burbank. "We cannot afford three more years of out of control spending. In short, we cannot afford three more years of the Davis-Bustamante regime."

Sundheim and the other Republicans did not call on McClintock to drop his bid for governor. But the party chairman did urge Republicans to consider their decision carefully because "we don't want them to waste their vote."

Sundheim previously had said that he and the party were like parents who could not choose between two children. Asked what had changed, Sundheim said the party's grass-roots interests had insisted on an endorsement that could help the GOP retake the governor's office. Late last week, 42 of 56 GOP county leaders voted in favor of endorsing Schwarzenegger.

"This is a two-person race and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the candidate we should unify behind on Oct. 7 or risk a Bustamante governorship that could potentially be even worse than a Davis governorship," said Alameda County GOP Chairman Jim Hartman.

Bustamante has been jockeying with Schwarzenegger for the lead position in statewide polls.

Larry McCarthy, president of the California Taxpayers Assn., cited arguments similar to the GOP's in explaining why the organization had decided to endorse Schwarzenegger. It was the first time in its 77-year history that the association of big businesses had endorsed a candidate, McCarthy said. It has taken no position on the recall itself.

McCarthy said the association had acted out of concern over Bustamante's proposal for $8 billion in tax increases to balance the state budget. Schwarzenegger has not entirely ruled out tax increases, but has railed against them as a solution.

Asked why the group had chosen Schwarzenegger over McClintock, who has pledged that he would not raise taxes under any circumstances, McCarthy said: "I think it was simply a matter of their perception that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the most viable candidate with the greatest potential of winning."

McClintock reacted angrily to both endorsements. He said the California Taxpayers Assn. is part of the spending lobby that has resulted in a huge budget deficit. "These are those corporations that trade off of government favors," he said.

As for the GOP endorsement, McClintock said: "That's not the Republican Party. That's 21 people in the Republican Party.... I don't think Republican voters are going to accept that."

Insisting he was in the race to stay, McClintock offered to debate any of the other candidates, particularly Davis.

In recent days, Davis has challenged Schwarzenegger to a debate, but the actor has not accepted. The governor continued to shadowbox with Schwarzenegger on Monday, chiding him for his failure to accept the debate challenge.

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