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Top Democrats Lean Toward Bustamante

Times Staff Writers

California Democrats, still vowing to defeat the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, moved closer on Friday to embracing Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as their best backup candidate.

Prominent party leaders urged the other high-profile Democrat who says he intends to run, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, to bow out, but Garamendi brushed aside the entreaties.

As Democrats considered strategy in the 59-day race that officially starts Sunday, some of the more prominent candidates seeking to replace Davis began campaigning in advance of today’s 5 p.m. filing deadline.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on all three network morning shows and spent about an hour in Bellflower kicking off the 11th annual Inner City Games, an athletic contest for children from minority neighborhoods that he has long sponsored.

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Garamendi worked the crowd at L.A.'s Farmers Market.

Bustamante submitted the paperwork needed to become an official candidate to the secretary of state’s office. “I’ve been getting a tremendous amount of calls in support saying, ‘Thank you for putting your name in,’ ” Bustamante said.

Peter Ueberroth, the former major league baseball commissioner and head of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, announced his candidacy in a statement released by his office.

Strategists for Ueberroth, a registered Republican who plans to run as an independent, said they believe that the public will tire of Schwarzenegger after a couple of weeks of celebrity overload, leaving an opening for a candidate stressing substance and competence.

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In an interview, Ueberroth cited his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans on the Olympics and his efforts to bring economic development to riot-scarred parts of L.A. in the 1990s. He said he hoped that a similar approach could tone down the often-bitter partisanship in the state capital.

“I don’t think a fistfight in Sacramento is going to do anybody any good,” he said.

Davis spent much of Friday on the phone, seeking donations for his campaign and discussing policy and pending legislation with aides in his Sacramento office. In an interview taped Friday night for HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” Davis said a successful recall effort would open a Pandora’s box.

“People don’t want constant campaigning, and I guarantee you, Bill, if this recall hypothetically were to succeed, you’d have another recall. You’d have constant campaigns,” the governor said.

He and his aides have said they will wait until they learn who all the candidates are today before devising a final strategy to defeat the recall effort.

In a field now officially of at least 51 -- and expected to grow with last-minute filings today -- there were more unusual political moments as well.

Former child star Gary Coleman, also running as an independent, appeared on CNN to say he was throwing his support behind Schwarzenegger, although his name will stay on the ballot. Because of the short period between the filing deadline and election, once a candidate has formally entered the race, he or she cannot be taken off the ballot, election officials said.

The Oct. 7 election will offer voters two questions on the governorship. The first will ask if Davis should keep his job. The second will give voters, regardless of how they voted on the first question, a choice of potential successors. If Davis gets fewer than 50% of the votes on the up-or-down ballot, the next governor will be whoever gets the most votes in that successor contest.

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Top Democrats -- who only two months ago vowed defiantly to offer no replacement candidate for the ballot -- say their priority remains defeating the recall effort. But amid increasing concern about the governor’s dwindling support in public opinion polls, many have become convinced that they would be making a mistake if they offered voters no Democratic alternative on the successor ballot.

“One is preferable to two, and two’s preferable to three,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), echoing a line being used by Democratic politicians statewide. “If there’s more than one, it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to retain the governorship for the Democrats.”

As Democratic officials discussed their strategy, they circulated numbers from a survey taken by a Democratic polling firm that continue to show Davis losing the recall vote. The numbers also suggest, however, that Bustamante could be within striking distance of Schwarzenegger in an election for a successor, the officials said.

Several polls taken this week have shown somewhat more than half the electorate supporting the recall effort and about 4 in 10 backing Davis. The new poll was consistent with that.

On the election of a potential successor, the poll showed that Schwarzenegger had the support of about one-fourth the electorate. And the margin by which Bustamante trailed him -- several percentage points -- was roughly equivalent to Garamendi’s support.

“Garamendi obviously hurts Bustamante,” said a prominent Sacramento Democrat who asked not to be named.

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said Friday that Garamendi runs the risk of being a “spoiler.” Burton did not call Garamendi on Friday, but he did tell the insurance commissioner that he would not support Garamendi before the commissioner entered the race.

“It is clear that Cruz has a stronger base and a better title,” Burton said. A race by Garamendi “doesn’t compute at all. I don’t think it helps his political future.”

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Bustamante moved to the forefront when he broke ranks Thursday, hours after Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she was out of the race. At the same time, he drew criticism from some in his party, including Feinstein, who labeled his decision “opportunism.”

Still, aides to the lieutenant governor said Friday that they were encouraged by the internal polls. The numbers “clearly argue for the wisdom for his entry into the race,” said Richie Ross, Bustamante’s campaign strategist.

The lieutenant governor decided to run despite efforts by national Democratic leaders to convince him to stay out, said a senior Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The national party strategists felt that if he got in, others would follow, the official said.

The night Bustamante decided to run, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe was on the telephone with him and his aides until 3 a.m. to ensure that the statement kicking off his campaign would first urge Californians to vote against recalling Davis, the official said.

Garamendi, by contrast, declined to oppose the recall effort when he announced his candidacy Thursday. By Friday, his stand had changed.

“We shouldn’t have the recall, and I’m a ‘no’ vote on that, but then there’s the second question and that is: If there is a recall, who’s going to be the governor of California?” Garamendi said.

National Committee officials and other national Democratic leaders said they were disappointed that they could not keep major Democrats off the ballot. While many California Democratic officials feel that having an alternative candidate is an important insurance policy against a Davis defeat, the national officials disagree. Defeating the recall remains possible, said one official, but “clearly this makes it much more complicated.”

At one point, many California Democratic leaders shared that view. But the consensus among the state’s 33-member Democratic delegation to Congress, as well as many state elected officials, changed recently.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Thursday that representatives, worried about Davis’ chances, questioned the wisdom of the party’s staying out of the fight over a replacement.

By Friday, several members were commenting on where they stood.

“The majority of the members are leaning toward Bustamante” as a fallback choice, said Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), referring to his fellow California Democratic representatives.

If there has to be a backup candidate, “I think Cruz has the claim on it as lieutenant governor,” said Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego), one of several Democratic officeholders to line up behind Bustamante.

Garamendi acknowledged that he had been under pressure from his party to leave the race. He said three prominent Democrats whom he would not name had approached him.

“But the reality is, I am in this race,” said Garamendi, a former state legislator whose political career began in 1974. Several Democrats said that, despite efforts to talk Garamendi out of running, he was not expected to withdraw.

Behind the scenes, as the original run-no-Democrats strategy derailed, there was clearly a struggle by party leadership to regain control over a fracturing recall effort.

Garamendi “has received forceful phone calls from several members of the labor leadership,” said Carroll Wills, communications director for the California Professional Firefighters, which represents 30,000 federal, state and local firefighters.

But Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and a Garamendi supporter, said the party could be damaging its chances by lining up behind Bustamante.

“The Democratic establishment is trying to anoint” Bustamante, he said. With Schwarzenegger trying to run as an anti-establishment candidate, “I don’t think that is the best strategy.”

In the meantime, California Democrats in the House, who are currently on August recess, plan to speak again as a group Monday after the field is set to decide how best to keep a Democrat in the governorship.

Asked whether the party would unify behind a single backup candidate, state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said: “That may occur, but I think the filing time has to pass so that the field is clear as to who’s in and who is really out.”

“We could coalesce,” he said.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Filers to date

These Californians had met county requirements for the Oct. 7 recall ballot as of Friday; those marked with an asterisk also have been certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s office. The final list of certified ballot names will be issued next week.

Mohammad Arif, nonpartisan, Culver City

Badi Badiozamani, nonpartisan, San Diego

John W. Beard*, Republican, North Hollywood

Ed Beyer, Republican, San Clemente

Audie Bock, Democrat, Piedmont

Art Brown, Democrat, Canoga Park

John Christopher Burton, nonpartisan, Pasadena

Cruz Bustamante, Democrat, Sacramento

Peter Miguel Camejo*, Green, Oakland

D. (Logan Darrow) Clements, Republican, Pacific Palisades

Gary Coleman, nonpartisan, Culver City

Bob Edwards, Democrat, Hayward

Leo Gallagher, nonpartisan, Agoura

Justin Garten, nonpartisan, Yucaipa

Howard Allen Gershater, nonpartisan, Camarillo

Gerold Lee Gorman*, Democrat, Martinez

Richard Gosse, Republican, San Rafael

Ronald J. Friedman, nonpartisan, Woodland Hills

Sara Ann Hanlon, nonpartisan, La Mirada

Michael R. Hinson, nonpartisan, Victorville

Jim Hoffmann*, Republican, San Joaquin

S. Issa, Republican, Arcadia

Michael Jackson, Republican, Long Beach

Edward T. Kennedy*, Democrat, Weaverville

D.E. Kessinger*, Democrat, Riverside

Eric Korevaar*, Democrat, La Jolla

Gary Leonard, Democrat, Los Angeles

Todd Richard Lewis, nonpartisan, West Hollywood

Shu Yih Liu, nonpartisan, Los Angeles

Calvin Louie, Democrat, San Francisco

Robert Mannheim, Democrat, Agoura Hills

Paul Mariano*, Democrat, Martinez

Mike McCarthy, nonpartisan, Pismo Beach

Tom McClintock*, Republican, Thousand Oaks

Mike McNeilly*, Republican, Beverly Hills

Carl A. Mehr, Republican, San Diego

John “Jack” Mortensen, Democrat, Folsom

Wolfgang Georg Neckien, Republican, Northridge

Leonard Padilla*, nonpartisan, Sacramento

Heather Peters, Republican, Santa Monica

Charles “Chuck” Pineda Jr., nonpartisan, Sacramento

Ned Roscoe*, Libertarian, Napa

Darrin H. Scheidle*, Democrat, El Cajon

Richard J. Simmons, nonpartisan, Los Angeles

Christopher Sproul, Democrat, San Francisco

Tim Sylvester, Democrat, Santa Cruz

A. Lavar Taylor, Democrat, Santa Ana

Diane Beall Templin, American Independent, Escondido

Brian Tracy*, nonpartisan, Solana Beach

Chuck Walker, Republican, Scotts Valley

Michael J. Wozniak, Democrat, San Leandro

*Candidates who have been qualified by the secretary of state

Los Angeles Times


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