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Fog Lifting In California Race

With time dwindling before next week's vote, California's recall race is looking more and more like a two-man fight between Gov. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A new poll indicates Davis will likely be recalled. And while Schwarzenegger still must beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and face down a challenge from Republican State Sen. Todd McClintock in the race to replace Davis, the poll shows Schwarzenegger with a solid lead.

California's voters face two questions Oct. 7: whether to throw Davis out of office, and who should replace the governor if he is removed. With six days to go, it appeared that those two questions were fusing into one, with voters choosing between Davis staying and Schwarzenegger coming in.

As the race neared the wire Wednesday, candidates stepped up their efforts — or stepped out of the race.

Commentator-turned-politician Arianna Huffington on Tuesday dropped out of the campaign and urged her supporters to vote against the effort to remove Davis in order to block a potential Republican victory.

Davis, meanwhile, continued to use the power of his office and the allure of star Democrats to try to bolster his sagging fortunes. He signed a set of bills Tuesday that he said would overhaul the costly workers' compensation system.

On Wednesday, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a presidential candidate, was to campaign with the governor, and former President Clinton was expected to arrive Thursday. Mr. Clinton's last wave of appearances with Davis came as support for the recall appeared to be stalling.

Schwarzenegger, who plans a four-day bus tour from San Diego to Sacramento beginning Thursday, was to outline his plan Wednesday for his first 100 days in office.

Meanwhile, a second recent statewide poll showed voters were prepared to boot Davis and replace him with Schwarzenegger.

The Los Angeles Times poll showed the recall succeeding by a 56 percent to 42 percent margin. That was a shift from a Sept. 12 Times poll that showed support for the recall stalling, with 50 percent of voters supporting it and 47 percent in opposition.

Schwarzenegger had support from 40 percent of likely voters in Tuesday's poll, Lt. Gov. Bustamante had 32 percent and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock had 15 percent.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman welcomed the latest results.

"We're very gratified but still understand that there is a week to go in this campaign and Arnold won't let up one bit. He'll finish this campaign very strong," Stutzman said.

The poll is the first released since last week's debate — the only one featuring Schwarzenegger — that can be compared to earlier results and it shows how support has shifted. In the Sept. 12 survey, Bustamante led with 30 percent, Schwarzenegger had 25 percent and McClintock had 18 percent.

Schwarzenegger's surge may reflect the withdrawal of former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, another moderate Republican, who drew 8 percent in the Sept. 12 poll despite bowing out while it was being conducted.

According to the Times, the poll also follows a major advertising push by Schwarzenegger.

The latest Times poll showed Huffington's support slipped from 3 percent on Sept. 12 to less than 0.5 percent in the latest poll of 815 likely voters taken from Sept. 25-29 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In departing the race, Huffington said she would withhold endorsing anyone for now. "I want people to vote their conscience, but make sure that whatever their vote is it does not put Schwarzenegger in the Statehouse," she said.

Huffington's exit could help Bustamante — the Democrats' best hope of thwarting Schwarzenegger should Davis lose the recall vote. Bustamante is more to the center of her left-leaning politics, but shares some of the same values.

If the polls are any indication, McClintock would all but hand the governorship to Scwarzenegger if he dropped out and is under pressure to do so. But the state senator, who represents some of the conservative wing of the state GOP that distrusts the pro-abortion rights and pro-gay rights Schwarzenegger, has vowed to fight on. The Times poll, however, shows the bodybuilder picking up support within the right wing.

Davis' campaign spokesman, Peter Ragone, meanwhile, downplayed the latest poll results, saying the Oct. 7 campaign remained fluid.

"As people look closer at the choices of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republicans and Gray Davis and the Democrats, it's going to continue to shift, and I think it's going to shift back away from the recall," Ragone said.

The poll, though, showed Davis' support ebbing in four key categories: Democrats, women, moderates and liberals.