Schwarzenegger planned to skip Wednesday's debate, opting instead to deliver a speech before supporters and students at California State University in Long Beach.
Schwarzenegger has agreed to participate in only one debate, sponsored by the California Broadcasters Association in late September, for which questions will be provided ahead of time. That decision has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Wednesday's debate in Walnut Creek is jointly sponsored by the Contra Costa Times, KTVU television and KQED public radio.
In the first part, Davis, as the target of the recall, will be questioned by journalists and voters about his record. In part two, five of the 135 candidates battling to replace Davis will field questions and debate among themselves; Davis will not be part of that forum.
The five participating candidates are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat running as a replacement candidate; State Sen. Tom McClintock and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, both Republicans; television personality Arianna Huffington, running as an independent; and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.
Candidates qualified for the debate by receiving at least 4 percent support in either a recent poll or the last statewide vote.
Even though Schwarzenegger has opted out of the debate Wednesday, organizers say they'd welcome a last minute change of heart.
"We're holding a chair and will accommodate Arnold if he chooses to come," said Michael Kelly, executive producer of KTVU. The organizers have opted against actually having an empty chair on the stage to illustrate Schwarzenegger's absence, The Los Angeles Times reports.
In other developments:
Schwarzenegger's speech was to be an appeal to join him in his fight to put the public's interests ahead of special interests, said campaign spokesman Rob Stutzman. The campaign will launch a new set of TV ads Wednesday echoing that theme.
Davis was also set to air his first campaign commercials in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey. But Davis leaves the talking to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to urge voters to turn down the recall. A small picture of Davis appears briefly at the bottom of the screen, but his name is never mentioned.
"The governor deserves the chance to keep working on issues we care about like education, health care and important new privacy legislation," Feinstein says in one ad. The state's senior senator, who fought off a recall as mayor of San Francisco, describes the instability and uncertainty the recall would cause, and urges a "no" vote.
Besides giving Davis support from the state's most popular politician, the ads offer the most tangible proof that the two have repaired their rocky relationship since Davis ran a negative campaign against Feinstein for the Democratic nomination for Senate. In that bid, he compared her to Leona Helmsley, the New York hotel owner and tax cheat.
Davis campaign director Steve Smith said Davis' name was not deliberately left out of the ads, rather that Feinstein had written the scripts herself and wanted to present the case against the recall in her own words.
But observers said the omission of Davis' name signaled a clear choice by the campaign to divert focus from the embattled governor, whose popularity ratings have hovered in the low 20s in most recent polls.
"I think it's a huge concession on the governor's part to allow Dianne Feinstein to go on the air with an ad that doesn't name him," said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. "When your numbers are where his are, the best commercial you could do would be to talk about the recall itself and the damage that could be caused by it."
Davis on Tuesday also announced the appointment of Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff and budget director under President Clinton, to lead a promised budget reform effort for California.
Panetta, who was a representative from Monterey County, said he would assemble a bipartisan team of experts to examine the state's boom and bust economics. Officials have acknowledged that state spending is a problem and the state could face a more than $8 billion deficit in the 2004-05 fiscal year.