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Feinstein took a pass. But then, just hours later on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger didn't, and the fragile shell of solidarity that the Democrats had built around the embattled Governor collapsed. By the next day, two Democrats with proven statewide appeal--Lieutenant Governor Bustamante and insurance commissioner John Garamendi--added their names to the list of candidates on the second ballot who were offering themselves up to replace Davis. And so Davis was left facing members of his establishment and a simple yea or nay verdict on his future: the state supreme court last Thursday rejected the Governor's lawsuit to delay the election and allow his name to appear among the replacement candidates should he lose the recall.
All this left the Democratic field fractured, with no heavyweight to take on Schwarzenegger. Sensing a disaster, such influential figures as former Governor Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown took to the cable news shows to suggest that Davis should step aside and beg Feinstein to run in his place. Meanwhile, panic-stricken union officials, who had pledged to stand with Davis, started putting out the word privately that he should not count on the $10 million in assistance he has asked from them.
But giving up now, says Davis' friend Mickey Kantor, who was Commerce Secretary during the Clinton Administration, "is not his personality. His personality would be to fight with his back against the wall." In which case, Davis' best hope is to refocus Californians on the first question on the ballot: whether it's right to spend more than $60 million to remove a Governor they elected less than a year ago who has not committed any malfeasance and whose major sin was hiding from them the seriousness of the problems ahead when he was running for re-election. On Monday, when Davis found himself in Chicago at an AFL-CIO convention with Bill Clinton, he privately sought the counsel of the master political survivor. As they talked for more than an hour at the Drake Hotel, Clinton (who has also been advising Feinstein) compared Davis' situation with his own during impeachment. The key, he told Davis, is to stay engaged and make sure voters see him every day on the job. Saturday's filing deadline found Davis signing environmental legislation at a health-care center in Santa Monica.
But with Schwarzenegger's entry into the race and the defection of fellow Democrats (although one of them, Garamendi, suddenly took himself out last Saturday), it will be more difficult for Davis to frame the debate on his terms. Attention for now has shifted to the second ballot question: if the Governor is thrown out, who should replace him? In some ways, this plays into one of Davis' few known political talents. He has always run best when he has an opponent to savage--and up until now, his only one in the recall election seemed to be Gray Davis.