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Calif. Dems' Recall Unity Strained

With California's recall election less than a month off, Democratic unity — never solid — is straining.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the leading Democrat vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis if the governor is recalled, appeared to change his strategy from "No on recall, yes on Bustamante" to embracing just the latter part of that slogan.

"I need your vote for governor," Bustamante repeatedly reminded a crowd of about 2,500 people during a rally here Sunday in his hometown. But only once did he urge them to first vote against recalling Davis. And even then, Bustamante acknowledged afterward, those words were largely drowned out by the chants of his supporters.

"You didn't hear it over the roar of the crowd, but at the end of the speech, I said, 'No on recall, yes on Bustamante,'" he said.

In other developments:

  • Californians who plan to vote by absentee ballot can submit their picks starting Monday.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver, a television journalist on leave from NBC, has been a key behind-the-scenes strategist for the campaign. Now she is moving into a more public role as her husband's defender, The Los Angeles Times reports — specifically, to refute claims that the muscular actor has harassed women.
  • Bustamante announced he would transfer $3.8 million in questioned contributions from unions and Indian tribes to a committee established to fight Proposition 54, the Oct. 7 ballot initiative that would restrict public agencies from collecting racial data.
  • There are worries about the voting machines some counties will use in the recall vote. The Sacramento Bee reports computer security experts fear the touch-screen computers set for use in Shasta, Alameda, Plumas and Riverside counties could be susceptible to fraud. Even a relatively minor act of fraud, affecting a few hundred votes, could affect the outcome in the race, which is being contested by 135 candidates.
  • Besides the split between Bustamante and Davis, there are other strains on Democratic unity. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and state Treasurer Phil Angelides are both miffed at Bustamante's front-runner status. They were planning on running in 2006 and each has collected more than $10 million each — putting them in better shape that the lieutenant governor.

    The lieutenant governor, the only prominent Democrat among the 135 candidates on the Oct. 7 ballot to replace Davis, has said he originally got into the race as a fallback candidate for his party to support if fellow Democrat Davis was recalled.

    As such, he said, he would urge people to vote "no" on the first part of the recall ballot and then to vote for him on the second part.

    But on Sunday he said, "The governor is focused on the first question, and I've got to be focused on the second."

    It's a natural evolution for a candidate serious about winning a political campaign, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

    "It's an indication that he wants to be governor and he can't be governor if the recall goes down," Pitney said.

    On Sunday, ethnic politics took center stage in the recall race.

    Davis was flanked by Hispanic lawmakers as he rode in an East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day parade that Schwarzenegger had planned to attend before organizers booted him out, a development the actor blamed on politics.

    The Democratic governor, who gained points in the Hispanic community by signing a bill Friday giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, acknowledged saying "you shouldn't be governor unless you can pronounce the name of the state," but said the comment was made in jest.

    The remark, reported by the Sacramento Bee, was apparently a reference to Schwarzenegger's thick Austrian accent.

    Schwarzenegger, campaigning in a heavily Hispanic Los Angeles suburb, said his pronunciation of "California" was just one of the words Davis didn't like to hear.

    "He doesn't like 'lost jobs,' he doesn't like that word," Schwarzenegger said after participating in an awards ceremony for Inner City Games, a youth foundation he supports.

    "He doesn't like 'blackouts,'" Schwarzenegger said. "He doesn't like 'energy crisis.' And he definitely doesn't like 'recall.'"

    Davis insisted: "I was just joking around with someone in the crowd."

    But he added "it's not a joke" that Schwarzenegger voted for Proposition 187, a measure denying some social services to illegal immigrants, and that he would vote to repeal the bill allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses.

    The proposition was largely invalidated in the courts, and since then the tone of Golden State politics has shifted as its demographics have changed. Far from being the center of political discourse, most candidates are trying to stay away from discussing illegal immigration, reports The Times.

    The irony is that it was their mutual dislike for Proposition 187 but their divergent approaches to defeating it that first split Bustamante and Davis. In 1999, the lieutenant governor faulted Davis for asking courts to resolve the dispute over the law through mediation, rather than challenging it directly.