"We strongly oppose the recall, but if California voters make a different choice, then Lt. Governor Bustamante is the appropriate person to assume the office," Rep. Zoe Lofgren said after she and other Democratic representatives nailed down the endorsement in a conference call Thursday.
Lofgren, of San Jose, said Californians had an election less than a year ago, and picked Davis, but now Republicans want to reverse the results through a recall that will cost the state millions of dollars.
She called Bustamante highly qualified to lead the state should a vacancy occur.
The decision effectively abandons the initial anti-recall strategy of Davis, who had sought to unite the party behind a Davis-or-nobody message.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, scheduled to speak to reporters in San Francisco later Thursday about the Bush administration's education policies, was expected to field questions on endorsement.
Davis said Wednesday that Bustamante's campaign might help him by bringing more anti-recall voters to the polls, adding the two might campaign together at some point.
"It's entirely possible that we can find ways going forward to coordinate one another's activities," he said.
A new poll, meanwhile, found that 58 percent of likely voters would recall the governor.
In addition to looking at support for the recall, the poll released Thursday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that if Davis is removed, 23 percent of the 993 likely voters surveyed would replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, while 18 percent would pick Bustamante. The error margin was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Davis has gone on the offensive lately, blasting the recall as a Republican power grab, and taking a few jabs at Schwarzenegger.
"If someone wants to replace me, let's see a plan of how they want to manage the state, not just a couple sound bites," he told a town hall-style meeting Wednesday night in Hollywood.
Flanked by billionaire investor Warren Buffett and former Secretary of State George Shultz, Schwarzenegger emerged from an economic summit Wednesday with some big-picture announcements, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.
Schwarzenegger said he would not raise taxes to solve the state's budget problems, but when pressed, the pro-business candidate clarified his no-taxes pledge.
"There could be an earthquake or a disaster or something, so you can't say never," he said.
The 56-year-old Republican also said that until he's elected governor and a special audit identifies the waste in government programs, he's unwilling to say what he'll cut to save taxpayer dollars. But cuts will be made, Schwarzenegger insisted.
"It's like the doctor, sometimes cuts have to be made to save the patient," he said.
An overflow press corps covered Schwarzenegger's first full news conference – a dramatic contrast to the contingent that greeted Peter Ueberroth, the former baseball commissioner and key organizer of the successful 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Ueberroth, a Republican running as an Independent, has vowed to only serve out Davis' term and not seek re-election, said he would cut state spending across the board by 5 percent and create a one-time tax amnesty that would bring in $6 billion.
"I am a businessman. I'm a leader and a problem solver,'' he said. ``I've had some successes and I've had some failures. Fortunately, I've had more successes than failures, and I pay a lot of taxes.
"What am I not? I am not a politician. I'm not good on television, and I can't give you answers in sound bites,'' he said.
Also Wednesday, a federal judge in Los Angeles kept the recall on schedule by turning down arguments by American Civil Liberties Union lawyers that it should be delayed until March so that six counties can complete the replacement of old punch-card machines with more reliable modern systems.
"Because an election reflects a unique moment in time, the court is skeptical that an election held months after its scheduled date can in any sense be said to be the same election," said U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson.