"Without a doubt, only one man has been able to stand above the rest to make it clear that there will be a direction change away from the pay-to-play Bustamante-Davis way of doing business," Rep. Darrell Issa said, referring to the governor and the Democratic front-runner to replace him if he is recalled, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Issa's announcement at Schwarzenegger's campaign headquarters appeared to have little effect, however, on state Sen. Tom McClintock, the one other prominent Republican still in the race. About the same time, McClintock unveiled a new ad and said Schwarzenegger should step aside in favor of him.
The developments came a day after Davis challenged Schwarzenegger to get his facts straight or face off in a head-to-head debate.
Davis wasn't invited to Wednesday's barb-filled free-for-all between five contenders for his job, and he emerged unscathed and perhaps a bit more combative, accusing the Republican of twisting his record and exaggerating the state's problems.
"I'm going to set the record straight. I'm getting sick and tired of his distortions," Davis said. "If he doesn't set the record straight himself, I may have to debate him."
After his scrappy performance, Schwarzenegger earned key endorsements that could provide a key boost to his candidacy with only a week and a half remaining until the election and put more pressure on McClintock to fall in line.
In addition to Issa, who bankrolled the effort to put the recall measure on the ballot with $1.7 million, Schwarzenegger got a nod from businessman Bill Simon, who lost the election to Davis last fall and dropped out of the recall race earlier.
Schwarzenegger also was backed by the California Republican County Chairmen's Association, a group of Republican committee leaders from California's 58 counties. The group, which has ties to grass-roots activists, does not normally endorse.
McClintock was not swayed, saying he planned to keep his word to fight to the end. Schwarzenegger said it wasn't his place to tell McClintock to quit.
"This is a decision that he has to make," he said. "I think it is obviously much better, mathematically speaking, to win when you don't split the vote, and I think it is very important for him to think about that. But I am not going to be the one that pushes him."
The busy campaign activity followed a debate filled with shouting, insults and wisecracks among the leading candidates seeking to replace Davis. The debate frequently turned rowdy, and candidates routinely jumped on top of each other's answers and shouted to be heard.
Some analysts said the raucous atmosphere may have played into Davis' strategy of portraying the recall as a circus while going about the business of leading California.
"I think a substantial amount of viewers probably wanted to take a shower and think this whole recall thing is a big stinky mess," said Marty Kaplan, associate dean at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California. "Should we empower this group of bickering mudwrestlers? You wanted to vote them all off the island."
Davis on Thursday accused Schwarzenegger of overstating the amount of taxes Californians pay and of wrongly saying a state program for healthy families has been unsuccessful. He also ridiculed Schwarzenegger's Wednesday night performance.
"I did see the last hour of the debate, it looked to me more like a food fight. There was a fellow who's used to reading scripts who had a couple of one-liners and put-downs," Davis said.
Pressed about whether he really planned to challenge Schwarzenegger to debate, Davis said, "I will give you that answer in the next two days. Right now I am saying, 'Get your facts straight, Mr. Schwarzenegger.'"
Polls still show most voters want to get rid of Davis, but the momentum appears to be shifting his way. Three polls released in the last eight days have shown support for the recall slipping and Davis' dismal ratings getting better.
Davis campaign officials say the rowdiness of the debate only improved his standing.
Observers said Schwarzenegger's debate performance, while competent and often funny, may have hurt him with women voters, who have not embraced him.
Schwarzenegger repeatedly clashed with independent Arianna Huffington in a way that some analysts called overly aggressive.
"Where this could hurt him is if the exchange becomes a catalyst for discussion about Arnold and women in general," said Arnold Steinberg, a GOP consultant and pollster who is not working for a candidate in the race.
Schwarzenegger's aides dismissed the notion that the bickering was part of a pattern of treating women badly, as Huffington claimed.
"If she's going sit there and be rude and interrupt the debate, she is going to get treated roughly at times," said spokesman Rob Stutzman.
Meanwhile, organized labor kicked their grass-roots campaign into high gear Thursday, spending as much as $5 million on a massive phone bank and door to door effort to fight the recall but promote the backup candidacy of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.