GOP, Dems Bet The Farm In Calif.

Gray Davis headshot, as California Governor, 5-23-01 AP

Angry petitioners have set their sights on making California history by ousting a governor who was just re-elected.

With a 24 percent approval rating, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is a tempting target. The state is saddled with a monumental $38 billion budget deficit - and Davis has already taken the heat for his handling of the state's energy crisis.

CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports recall supporters say they are close to getting the 900,000 signatures to force a special election. The campaign was energized by millionaire Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who contributed more than $600,000 to the effort and wants the governor's job.

"This is about Gray Davis' failures, not about Republican advantage," says Issa.

But Davis supporters say that's exactly what it's about, because the GOP was swept from every state office in the last election.

"We had an election, we won it fair and square, obviously the people who lost it want another election," says Davis.

Here's how a recall would work: voters would be asked to check a box on the ballot to recall the governor, and then pick from a list of possible replacements.

Many names are being floated as replacements, including an A-list Hollywood actor who's been coy about his intentions, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"This is very embarrassing, I've just forgotten the name of our state governor's name, but I know you'll help me recall him," says Schwazenegger.

Other potential Republican candidates include failed GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks.

Political observers say the recall goes beyond partisan politics.

"If this recall succeeds, it can destabilize the government of the nation's largest state the nation's largest economy," says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California.

Many of Issa's fellow Republicans fear the recall could backfire and add further damage to the party already nearly powerless in California politics.

Democrats are scrambling to decide whether to close ranks around Davis or field a more popular candidate to replace him.

Potential Democratic candidates for governor are especially cautious, not wanting to lend any additional credibility to the recall effort. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante have been the most frequently mentioned.

Even if the recall fails, many Democrats fear the governor has been damaged by the effort and that his ability to lead the state out of its budget crisis may be in jeopardy.

  • Francie Grace

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