Man Without Qualities

Friday, June 20, 2003

Davis Descending: For Now, The Phantoms Are Winning

The recall petition directed at California Governor-for-the-Moment Gray Davis continues to gain momentum, at least in Contra Costa County:

CONTRA COSTA ELECTION officials have boosted the Gray Davis recall campaign's claim that the signature-gathering effort is being carefully conducted. Only registered voters' signatures count. So, recall backers said, they were at first slow to turn in signatures because they were checking names against voter rolls. They apparently did a good job. Contra Costa randomly checked 500 of 4,490 signatures turned in May 29 and found 90.6 percent were valid. "Ninety percent is stunning," said Steve Weir, county clerk-recorder since 1989. He cannot recall seeing such a high rate before.

But what should be even more troubling for Mr. Davis is the increasing likelihood of other Democrats putting their names up to become governor if he is indeed turned out. If that were to happen, Mr. Davis' job of demonizing his opponent would become much trickier. For example, if Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante were to put his name up as an alternative, Mr. Davis would find himself running against his own second-in-command. Yet such a state of affairs seems increasingly likely, and according to a March 3 article in the Fresno Bee the internet is apparently also playing a big role in what's happening:

Recall backers say Davis' lack of support, even within his own party, changes the political dynamics. The state also will have to make some difficult choices to reduce the $35 billion budget deficit, and that will continue to damage Davis' standing.

But what makes this recall drive different from others is technology. Citizens can download petitions from their home computers, sign them and mail them in.

"We've had five million hits on our Web site in the five weeks since we started this," said Sal Russo, the longtime Republican strategist. "One of the differences this time is the democratization of technology." .... This issue is a tricky one for Democrats, especially those who want to succeed Davis four years from now. If the measure qualifies for the ballot, they must decide whether to be one of the candidates - essentially challenging their party's sitting governor and making it more difficult for Davis to win the recall election. If they sit it out, a Republican could win and that would severely damage their chances of winning the governorship in 2006. Indications are, though, that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Treasurer Phil Angelides would get into the recall campaign in self defense. All three have been criticizing Davis recently, increasing the speculation that they will have no allegiance to the governor if there's actually a recall election. Bustamante has little to lose.

The ever-more-terrified Los Angeles Times this week reported:

After months of refusing to say whether they might run to replace Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election, two leading Democratic contenders said Tuesday that they would not join the race if it occurs, offering Davis the first hint of party unity he has sought to save him from getting tossed out of office. Davis and his allies continue to hope they can keep the recall off the ballot. But the announcements by Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and state Treasurer Phil Angelides reflected a growing concern among Democrats that the recall is likely to qualify — and that the party must focus on how to respond to the threatened loss of power. .... In addition to Lockyer and Angelides, state Controller Steve Westly, who just won statewide office last year, said Tuesday that he would not run.

If the recall qualifies, the ballot would offer a yes or no vote on whether to bounce Davis, followed by a list of candidates to replace him. If Davis were recalled, the candidate with the most votes would become governor.

The chaotic nature of such a statewide race, which would be a first in California, has befuddled even the state's most seasoned political strategists as they try to understand how standard campaign calculations could apply under such extraordinary circumstances. ....

The Democrat most notably silent on Tuesday was Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
He is widely seen as the Democratic officeholder most likely to gamble on putting his name on the recall ballot. Bustamante, who has had a number of clashes with Davis, has said he opposes the recall but dodged questions on whether he might run if it qualifies for the ballot.

Translation: "[S]easoned political strategists ... try to understand how standard campaign calculations could apply under such extraordinary circumstances" means "How the heck do you demonize an opponent when you don't really have one and the closest thing you do have to an opponent may end up being your own second-in-command?"

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