Calif. Voters Weigh Their Options

California governors race, arnold schwarzenegger, gary coleman, larry flynt, arianna huffington
California's gubernatorial recall election is becoming the year's ultimate political reality show, with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis fighting for his job, at least 150 potential replacement candidates angling for attention and party leaders searching for strategies.

Voters have less than two months to decide if they should bounce the chief executive of the nation's most populous state and, if so, who should replace him.

Among their choices: Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt; political commentator Arianna Huffington; comedian Donald A. Novello, who created the chain-smoking Father Guido Sarducci character; and Angelyne, a buxom actress and model who has posted billboards with her likeness around Los Angeles for years.

But, as CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, it was actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the political bullseye on Sunday. — He was the clear frontrunner and target of other Republican candidates who say the strong man actor doesn't grasp California's huge economic problems.

"I would say this, there's a great deal that I'm sure Arnold Schwarzenegger could teach me about making movies," said State Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative Republican also in the running. "There's a great deal I could teach him about the fiscal reforms necessary to set this straight — this state right. But there's no time for training."

But some prominent conservative Republicans signaled that it's OK to support the moderate Schwarzenegger, even though he's pro-choice, pro gun control and pro gay rights.

"I've known him for about 20 years, and I don't agree with him on everything but he is going to be a breath of fresh air," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

The actor also received another endorsement from former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

"People who in this state style themselves as conservative Republicans will be very easily able to follow him," Wilson told CBS' Face the Nation.

Also running is Bill Simon, the Republican who lost to Davis last year.

In a televised interview, Simon said that if elected he would fight the state's huge budget deficit through government cuts and a reform of the workers' compensation system.

Simon called Schwarzenegger a good friend, whose candidacy helps call attention to the recall election, but he added: "we don't know where he stands on the issues."

The secretary of state's office said it would try to have a complete list of candidates available on Sunday. With the candidate filing deadline past, Monday looms as another important milestone, when the secretary of state will determine the order candidates' names will appear on the Oct. 7 ballot.

Democrats, who worried about splitting their supporters' vote, scored one small but potentially important victory Saturday when Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, under pressure from fellow party members, dropped out just hours before the deadline to file.

That left Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the only prominent Democrat on the ballot, raising hopes of keeping the state's top office in party hands if the unpopular governor is voted out.

In a televised interview, Bustamante said no other candidate could top his credentials.

"I'm the only person in this group ... that has been in a leadership role in the Legislature, that's ever reformed anything in California," Bustamante said.

Aides to Davis, a tenacious campaigner and fund-raiser, promised the governor would continue to do his job and would battle to keep it.

"Part of it is just explaining to voters that this is a waste of taxpayer money, and the other part of it is explaining that, as the governor has said himself, he wants to continue the progressive agenda he's worked on as governor," said Gabriel Sanchez, spokesman for Californians Against the Costly Recall.

"Our strategy is no on the recall. That's it."

Davis' messages often carry reminders that the recall election is expected to cost taxpayers about $67 million.

But Davis has a difficult task to avoid becoming the first California governor — and only the second nationwide — to be recalled from office.

In a Time/CNN poll released Saturday, 54 percent of voters said they would vote Davis out, while 35 percent were opposed.

Of the better-known candidates, 25 percent of voters chose Schwarzenegger and 15 percent chose Bustamante, while other candidates registered in single digits. The poll of 508 voters was conducted Friday and has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Voter anger has been building since the state's 2000-2001 energy crisis. Since then, Californians have witnessed the decline of the state's technology sector and a record $38 billion budget deficit, which triggered a tripling of the vehicle tax, forced college fees to rise as much as 30 percent and has threatened state employees with layoffs and pay cuts.

The governor's strategy of casting the recall as a wasteful, right-wing coup no longer seems as viable with a ballot that includes fellow Democrat Bustamante and moderate Republicans Schwarzenegger and former Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

"It's sure shaping up like Bustamante versus Schwarzenegger," University of Southern California political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said. "The fact that it's shaping up as Schwarzenegger versus Bustamante and not Larry Flynt versus Angelyne undermines Davis' strategy of creating fear and questions about the process."

With less than two months before the unprecedented vote, elections officials face assembling a cumbersome ballot of some 155 would-be replacements.

Having so many candidates qualify by Saturday's deadline presented a daunting challenge Sunday for everyone involved in the recall election, including 15.2 million registered voters who will be asked Oct. 7 whether to replace Davis.

Some county officials are daunted by the size at the candidate list, but Janice Atkinson, assistant registrar of voters in Sonoma County, said she believes most of the issues will be sorted out by Election Day. In the event a recount is needed, some counties including hers might have to resort to hand counting, she said.