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An In-Depth Look at California Recall Election

Aired August 22, 2003 - 16:00   ET


JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: Want to shift now to INSIDE POLITICS, and thank you for joining us. To remind you once again, Judy is off this week, but good for you, lucky for you, will be back on Monday.
Our focus this half-hour mostly on the California recall. Now that some top California Democrats have taken out an insurance policy of sorts on Gray Davis, the governor is looking for ways to benefit on a promo (ph) plan he originally opposed. This hour, Governor Davis is appealing to Latino voters. You see him here live, one of the groups that may turn out at the polls in bigger numbers because Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is on the recall ballot.

House Democrats from California and the State Teachers Association endorsed Lieutenant Governor Bustamante's candidacy yesterday, while still urging Californians to vote against ousting Governor Davis. Supporters say it's a win-win strategy. Among them, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, whom I spoke with last hour.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think that the position that the California delegation has taken unanimously will help unify our party and clear up a lot of confusion in the minds of voters.


KING: Governor Davis has publicly softened his stance toward the no on the recall, yes on Bustamante strategy, saying it could encourage more recall opponents to cast votes on October 7.

Around Schwarzenegger's campaign got another boost today, an endorsement by the Lincoln Club of Orange County, whose members include some of the state's biggest Republican donors. In addition, the group called on Schwarzenegger's Republican opponents to drop out of the race.

I spoke to one of them last hour, Republican Bill Simon. He says he has every intention of running to the end. But he also said intriguingly that he would take a phone call if the state Republican chairman called to encourage him to get out. And Bill Simon says he does expect the Republican field to shrink before the October 7 vote.

At this hour, Schwarzenegger is sticking to familiar turf, the Los Angeles area and the business community. He's meeting with small business owners. That meeting comes two days after his economic summit, a first step towards confronting California's fiscal crisis. Now, Schwarzenegger wasn't the only candidate talking about financial matters this week. But how much did we really learn from them?


GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm not happy with the budget I signed recently. I said so then. I repeat that today. But it was the best we could do.

KING (voice-over): The economy and its impact on the state budget is the biggest issue in the recall campaign. And the candidates have been quick to roll out proposals, some more specific than others.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Sacramento has overspent, overtaxed and overregulated our businesses.

KING: Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger promises to cut state spending, but says education programs will be spared. He won't outline specific cuts, saying voters don't care about figures. And while he says he won't raise taxes, Schwarzenegger hedges that pledge with a never-say-never clause. No such wiggle room from Republican rival Bill Simon.

BILL SIMON (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And I will not raise taxes of any kind.

KING: Simon pledges to roll back the car tax while reining in state spending.

Yet another Republican, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth proposes a one-shot tax amnesty program. He predicts it will bring in $6 billion, but many economists are dubious it will bring in that much.


KING: On the other end of the spectrum, Democrat Cruz Bustamante, who says he would raise taxes on wealthy Californians and on cigarettes and alcohol.

BUSTAMANTE: If we simply restore the state income taxes to the same levels established by Governor Ronald Reagan, we'll raise $2.7 billion.

KING: Bustamante also wants to restructure the state's property tax system.


KING: Mark Barabak of "The Los Angeles Times" is following this recall campaign and joins us now live from Los Angeles. Mark, a very busy week. Let's start with Governor Davis. He gave the big speech at the beginning of the week, he's been campaigning nonstop. The polls show he's in trouble. Any evidence that his heavy campaigning has changed the dynamic this week?

MARK BARABAK, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, we actually have a poll that came out of the field last night that is not great news, but these days anything that's not bad news has to be considered good news for Gray Davis. It shows the recall passing by 50-45, which suggests that it's still a race and something he can still pull out.

KING: But he's also had the defections, if you will, or the seeming defections of other Democrats. They say they want everyone to vote no on the recall, but more and more Democrats and labor (UNINTELLIGIBLE) endorsing Cruz Bustamante. Seems to me they're hedging their bets.

BARABAK: They are. And Gray Davis in sort of the classic when you're being run out of town, get in front of it and call it a parade. I mean, there's been a lot, as you suggest, a lot of concern about him, a lot of concern about losing the governor's office. And so contrary to what he wanted, a lot of people are getting behind this so-called no recall, yes Bustamante strategy. It's something that Gray Davis very fiercely resisted, didn't want to happen.

People are doing it anyway. And so now he's trying to turn it into a sort of a unified Democratic strategy. I talked to a Davis strategist who suggested the idea is that there's been a lot of stories written, a lot of talk about this group going against Davis, that group going against Davis. The idea is if he embraces the strategy, then the perceptions will change and it will become Democrats getting behind a unified strategy. Again, something he didn't want to do, but has been forced to adapt.

KING: Let's look at the Republican side of this race. One of the questions was, would Arnold Schwarzenegger give any specifics, many saying he's an actor, he can't be governor. He did say some things this week. Was it enough to quiet the conservatives?

BARABAK: You know, not to quiet the conservatives. He did not make that ironclad pledge, as you suggest, no new taxes. He wouldn't do it. He said you can't -- you never say never. There is a chance of an earthquake or some natural disaster. That upset a lot of conservatives. They're not happy with him.

There's a feeling that we've seen this movie before last year. I'm not saying it is going to be the same ending, but we saw Dick Riordan in the role of the moderate Republican, trying to reach out to Democrats and hang on to the Republican base, and it's not an easy thing to do. And that's what Arnold is attempting to do this time.

KING: And as all this plays out, still several Republicans, pressure on one or two of them to get out. Is this talk, or do you think this will actually happen?

BARABAK: You know, I'm skeptical. It's sort of your classic Alphonse/Gaston routine. You have Tom McClintock saying we need to get a Republican out there, we need to unify, and Bill Simon, you step aside. Bill Simon saying, yes, we need to unify, we need to get behind one candidate, and Tom, you step aside. I don't see any incentive for anybody to get out at this point. And if they do, their name is still going to be on the ballot.

KING: Now, Mark Barabak, quickly, a lot of coverage so far, only Arnold Schwarzenegger to go on TV, at least based on my understanding. When are we going to see more of the traditional very expensive California campaign?

BARABAK: I think pretty soon. As you mentioned, Arnold went on TV earlier this week. I know that other candidates have been shopping for ad time. I think there was a feeling that they wanted to see who would go first, what they would say. I would expect within the next week to 10 days, we're going to see several more of the candidates on the TV air waves.

KING: Mark Barabak of "The Los Angeles Times," thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Now, recall opponents have expressed fears that the give them the boot fever could spread to other states. That may be happening now in Minnesota, where Democratic leaders reportedly are considering a California-style effort to recall Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. He was elected less than a year ago, to succeed independent Jesse Ventura. Democrats are raising ethics questions about funds Pawlenty received and whether he paid taxes on them.

But Minnesota has a strict recall law. A recall petition may not be issued unless the state supreme court has found sufficient grounds for it. Eighteen states in all have some kind of a provision for a recall.

Gray Davis' secret weapon just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.


SHARON DAVIS, WIFE OF GRAY DAVIS: He doesn't focus on the negative things that are swirling around him. If he did, it would be like a huge undertow that could pull you under.


KING: California first lady, Sharon Davis, tells us about her husband's outlook and how she's helping him fight the recall.


KING: California first lady Sharon Davis is widely considered one of her husband's best political assets. A short time ago, I spoke with Mrs. Davis about the recall effort facing her husband. But first, some background from CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether it's a kiss, an embrace, or a passionate appeal to the public...

S. DAVIS: Thank you for your support. Thank you for no on the recall. LOTHIAN: Sharon Davis is helping her husband weather a political storm.

(on camera): Someone referred to you as your husband's secret weapon.

S. DAVIS: Well, you know, it's hard for me to call myself that.

LOTHIAN: Ever since the recall campaign gathered momentum, the first lady of California has taken on a much more visible role.

G. DAVIS: Viva, viva California.

LOTHIAN: Even helping Governor Gray Davis write his recent set the record straight speech.

S. DAVIS: We are taking responsibility for what is happening, but we also have an answer for moving the state forward.

LOTHIAN: She has set up shop in the governor's ninth floor Los Angeles campaign headquarters, a place no on in this camp expected to use so soon.

S. DAVIS: You can't bemoan what's happening, you have to just move forward.

LOTHIAN: She works the phones.

S. DAVIS: Are we getting the Democrats energized?

LOTHIAN: Meets with women's groups.

S. DAVIS: Tell them how much we appreciate...


LOTHIAN: Encourages volunteers.

S. DAVIS: How's the outreach going?

LOTHIAN: And talks strategy with staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This dark blue shows us how they voted in the primary election.


LOTHIAN: Davis is also trying to humanize a governor often criticized for lacking personality. In a Web journal, the first lady writes about his golf game, his exercise plan, and their home movie nights.

Everyone in this camp realizes voters are frustrated, skeptical and that many are looking to fresh and enthusiastic candidates who are offering solutions to repair California's problems.

(on camera): You are a spokesperson, in a sense, for your husband.

S. DAVIS: Right.

LOTHIAN: How do you convince the public that this is someone they need to stick with?

S. DAVIS: Well, we just have -- we have to go directly to the people and let them know that we heard their concerns.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): A first lady taking a leading role in a recall battle that threatens to oust her husband from the state's highest office.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Los Angeles.



KING: Sharon Davis joins us now from Los Angeles. Mrs. Davis, thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Want to begin with this question. You and your husband must be stung by what appears to be defections of Democrats in recent days. First, the lieutenant governor decides he'll be on the ballot. Now members of the Congressional delegation saying yes, vote no on the recall, but they're also endorsing the candidacy of Cruz Bustamante. Seems like they're hedging their bets. Does that disappoint you and the governor?

S. DAVIS: No, it doesn't. As you mentioned, they're all united in one point, and that is no on the recall.

It -- this is a very different kind of an election because Gray is not going head-to-head against Cruz Bustamante. He's in a separate race, a yes or no on this recall effort, and then all the other candidates are running against each other. So it makes a lot of sense what the Democrats are doing. They want to make sure they have a Democratic governor. And so they want to ensure a no vote on the recall as well as supporting the other major Democrat on the ticket.

KING: But if you talk to those members of Congress and their top staffers privately, many will say look at the polling. Nearly six in 10 Californians say they are inclined yes to recall your husband, the governor. There's a sense of gloom that your husband can survive. That psychology must have an impact on how you campaign.

S. DAVIS: No. As you've covered politics for a long time -- I know you've been on the beat of politics for a long time -- campaigns are very dynamic. And on a given day, things can change dramatically. A single phrase or a single interview can change the whole dynamics of a campaign.

So this campaign is unlike any other. It's so compact. Everything that happens in the day is almost like in a normal campaign what would happen in a week. There's huge amounts of media coverage. But as you know, voters don't normally tune in until the last couple of weeks before the election. And that's when I think they're going to really focus in and I think you'll see the numbers gel. But it's not unusual this far out, with just a glimpse at the candidates in the race, to have the numbers be different than they will be on the outcome of Election Day.

KING: You mention that campaigns can sometimes change. One, big speech, one big event.

S. DAVIS: Right.

KING: Your husband tried to give a big speech earlier in the week at UCLA.

S. DAVIS: Well, he did give a good speech.

KING: Acknowledged some mistake. He acknowledged mistakes as governor, but he suggested that there was this Republican effort, national Republican effort to steal an election. Tell us what into that speech and specifically your role and your role as an adviser to the governor?

S. DAVIS: Well, this was different than any other speech he has given. As you know, with most people in politics, there's somebody who writes a speech and then the candidate gives it. In this case, Gray really wanted to speak from his heart. So -- and for the first time, he actually took a speech and he dictated it into a recorder, and then we transcribed it so that he would have his own words and really be able to speak from the heart. And that has really turned out well, and we've not seen the outcome in the polling because all the polling that has come out recently was taken before that Monday speech. And so we haven't seen the full effect of it.

But that was just one speech. He also is going out and doing town hall meetings all over the state.

KING: Was there an admission of some political fault, if you will, in that speech? I covered the Clinton impeachment, the whole Monica Lewinsky saga here in Washington. And one of the reasons Clinton was able to survive is that he had some sort of a personal bond, a personal connection, at least with those voters who supported him. So he was able to keep the poll numbers up even at a very difficult time in his presidency.

Some say that has been a failure of your husband, to make more of a personal connection with the people of California. Do you think that's fair?

S. DAVIS: Well, you know, I think that it's not accurate. That's for sure. Because there are a number of Californians that are working very hard on this no-recall effort. Working families, women who want to protect the advances that we have in California for paid family leave and protecting a woman's right to choose. And environmentalists because California has the most stringent environmental laws protecting air and water and soil. And that's what Californians want. They want to have a pristine coast. They want to make sure that the air is healthy for their children to breathe. So these groups are coming together, and they're going to do very aggressive outreach within their groups to get out the vote.

KING: And your husband has said he will fight to the end. Ever a morning where either he or you have seen the newspapers in the morning, seen the polling and maybe sat around the breakfast table over coffee and said, forget about it, it is not worth it?

S. DAVIS: No. You know, you'd think so with some of the coverage that he's received.

But we're very positive. And we focus on the positive things we can do every day. And that's just my husband's nature. He doesn't focus on the negative things that are swirling around him. If he did, it would be like a huge undertow that could pull you under. He focuses on the positive things he can do in the campaign every day, the messages that he can go out and talk directly to the people through these town hall meetings. So he keeps a very positive attitude. And that helps not only me, but our whole campaign staff to stay focused on what we need to accomplish.


KING: Still ahead, the English aren't strangers to crazy politics, but what do they think of the West Coast chaos? Our Bill Schneider hit the streets of London, and we suspect a pub or three, to find out. Stay with us.


KING: Arnold Schwarzenegger's status as a worldwide film star meant his decision to run for governor generated global headlines. Because our Bill Schneider is in London, "The Political Play of the Week" gets a rest, what the Europeans might call a holiday. Instead, Bill offers us a European view of the Hollywood her's entry into American politics.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): How are people here in Britain reacting to the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor of California? It has clearly posed a challenge to typical British understatement.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The words that we would use, "amazement," "incredibility," "unbelievability," these are what you're hearing people say.

SCHNEIDER: Those famous British stiff upper lips loosened up.

CHRIS AYRES, "THE TIMES": And I just think people's jaws hit the floor when he said he was going to stand (ph). RUTH HILTON, "DAILY EXPRESS": I think all of our jaws dropped in the U.K., because you know, it's mixing reality and the film world in a way that we simply wouldn't do over here.

SCHNEIDER: It's all rather amusing, really.

MARTIN KETTLE, "THE GUARDIAN": They quite enjoy the slight sense that this is America making a fool of itself in public.

SCHNEIDER: There's a certain amount of tut-tuting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the American politicians now (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so it's about time you stopped the trend.

SCHNEIDER: But Schwarzenegger may have touched a nerve here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he knows a bit about politics, and he is -- he can speak to people, and they love him. Why not? It's great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, who cares? Get him in there.

SCHNEIDER: You see, Britain is famously ruled by a political class, and it is as deeply resented here as it is in the U.S.

AYRES: I think a lot of people at the moment, you know, with Tony Blair being extremely unpopular maybe questioning why they can't throw somebody out of power so easily.

SCHNEIDER: Does one detect a slight tinge of envy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never have any good-looking people in government. So you have to be ugly to get into government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everyone is so cold and serious here, especially politicians. But if it did happen, it would be really funny. And I welcome it with open arms.

SCHNEIDER: Some British are fascinated by the idea.

AYRES: But the fact that the electorate could halfway through an electoral cycle just say, we're sick of you, just go now, you know, we'll have Arnold Schwarzenegger instead. You know, that is, you know, very unusual.

SCHNEIDER: Some people in Britain say Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the most incredible political figure in America. They reserve that distinction for President Bush.

KETTLE: Who is this person who's become president? You know, he's a rather incredible figure in a different way. Doesn't have the film background or the Mr. Universe background, but he doesn't strike most people in this country as a terribly articulate fellow. So, you know, in some ways Arnold Schwarzenegger is better than the current president, I think, a lot of people here think.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Schwarzenegger as a politician? There are more ridiculous things, like Madonna with a British accent.

Bill Schneider, CNN, London.


KING: INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


KING: That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. You'll be very happy to know Judy will be back on Monday. I'd like to thank the INSIDE POLITICS staff, all of those here in the studio, behind the bulletproof glass, for putting up with me these past two weeks. Have a great weekend. I'm John King. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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