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Davis Takes Arnold To Task

Having avoided the rough-and-tumble debate of those looking to replace him, Gov. Gray Davis challenged Arnold Schwarzenegger to get his facts straight or go head-to-head in a debate of their own.

Davis, who wasn't invited to Wednesday's barb-filled free-for-all between five contenders for his job, emerged unscathed and perhaps a bit more combative Thursday as he resumed his work as governor.

He took jabs at Schwarzenegger, accusing the Republican action star 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."

A day after his scrappy performance, Schwarzenegger earned endorsements that could provide a key boost to his candidacy with only a week and a half remaining until the election. They also put more pressure on conservative Republican Sen. Tom McClintock to fall in line behind Schwarzenegger's candidacy — something McClintock has refused to do.

Rep. Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the effort to put the measure on the ballot with $1.7 million, was expected to give the former bodybuilder his endorsement Friday, a Republican source said.

Businessman Bill Simon, who lost the election to Davis last fall and dropped out of the recall race earlier, endorsed Schwarzenegger on Thursday, saying he was the "right man" for the job.

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. He said he planned to keep his word to fight to the end, including a new ad called to be launched Friday.

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 came a day after 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.