The California State Labor Federation AFL-CIO, an association of more than 1,300 local unions representing some 2.1 million workers, voted Tuesday to endorse Bustamante for governor in case Davis is ousted Oct 7.
The recall ballot will have two parts. Voters first will be asked to vote on whether to recall Davis, and then will choose from a list of 135 candidates to replace him if he is recalled.
The endorsement of the lieutenant governor's "No on recall, yes on Bustamante" campaign was a significant strategic shift for the labor union, which had earlier led opposition to the recall and urged other Democrats to stay off the ballot.
"It's a very tactical decision coming out here pretty united with the message 'no on recall, no on recall, no on recall and yes on Bustamante,'" Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said after the unanimous vote by about 600 delegates.
In other developments:
Bustamante welcomed the endorsement, which follows similar support from the state's teacher union, California's Democratic congressional delegation and state Senate Democrats.
"I'm pleased that the Democratic family is coming together to embrace the idea that voting no is not enough," the lieutenant governor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Davis has also begun to move closer to the strategy, though so far without wholeheartedly endorsing his lieutenant, with whom he has an estranged relationship. But he has said Bustamante's entry into the race could bring out more voters who would also vote against the recall.
The two had a friendly working relationship until April 1999, when Bustamante told a news conference he disagreed with Davis' decision to ask a federal appeals court to use mediation to resolve a dispute over an anti-illegal immigrant ballot initiative.
The lieutenant governor said Davis' legal strategy concerning Proposition 187, which denies services to illegal immigrants, was backtracking on a promise to heal racial divides.
Bustamante later asked the court to reject the governor's request, and after that, several of his aides lost their Capitol parking spaces. Davis' office blamed construction, but Bustamante staffers considered it payback.
The relationship between the two since then has been courteous in public but icy in private.
Davis on Tuesday repeated words of praise for Bustamante that he's begun to employ in recent days. "He's a good and decent person and the most qualified person on question two, but this election is not going to get to question two," Davis said.
Observers say any move to unite the estranged bedfellows carries a risk that Bustamante will be too closely associated with Davis and the problems he's been blamed for causing.
The two share the same political base and are seeking funds from the same sources. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, leading in the polls among Republicans, has already tagged the balding Bustamante as Davis without the hair.
Walter Stone, chairman of the political science department at the University of California at Davis, said Democrats have little choice now but to have Davis and Bustamante link arms.
"The Democrats would have been taking a big chance by not having this candidate-in-waiting option," Stone explained. "Davis' plan, to tie Democrats to the steering wheel in a game of chicken, would have been very high risk."