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Strike three

National | CALIFORNIA: Ueberroth's exit narrows the field but doesn't make things any less complicated for Republicans in the recall race

Issue: "Arafat: The devil you know," Sept. 20, 2003

Former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth last week simply couldn't catch up with the high-and-tight fastball that is the California recall election. "In the four weeks [between] where we are and where we have to get, we just can't get there," he said in a Sept. 10 news conference.

Mr. Ueberroth's announcement came the same day as new Field poll numbers showed him with only single-digit support. That poll also showed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the leading Democrat in the race, with a slight lead over GOP frontrunner Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Ueberroth's exit theoretically makes it easier on the two major Republicans to vie for the state's conservative vote-The Terminator and state senator Tom McClintock-but it still leaves Mr. Bustamante in sole possession of the mainstream liberal vote.

Analysts say Mr. McClintock, a pro-life, fiscal conservative, cannot win-he drew 17 percent in the Field poll-and Mr. Schwarzenegger, a liberal Republican, may not win if Mr. McClintock stays in the race. That would put Mr. Bustamante in the governor's chair, a state of affairs conservatives say would be worse than keeping the hugely unpopular Gov. Gray Davis in office.

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Gov. Davis has made up ground in recent days, but voters still don't seem inclined to keep him around. With four weeks until Election Day, 55 percent of likely voters say they plan to recall Davis. That's down from 58 percent last month. Still, only 40 percent of voters surveyed said they'd vote to keep Mr. Davis in office. With the governor's job still likely up for grabs, some GOP leaders are calling on Mr. McClintock to drop out of the race. But, following Mr. Ueberroth's farewell press conference, Mr. McClintock held firm and, in a press release, challenged the elusive Mr. Schwarzenegger to debate.

"Let Arnold explain why he is the better candidate for governor. Let Arnold tell the convention what besides celebrity and money does he have to offer," Mr. McClintock said. "We know he can play the role of governor. We do not know if he can be a real governor."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bustamante last week confronted an odd set of numbers. While registered voters gave him a slight edge in the race for governor, they also said they like him less than before. About half of voters surveyed said they held an unfavorable opinion of the lieutenant governor, a 10-point plunge since last month.

That nose dive is likely the result of an illegal campaign-fundraising lawsuit filed against Mr. Bustamante by GOP state senator Ross Johnson. Sen. Johnson authored a state law setting campaign-spending limits at $21,200 per group or individual. He charges that Mr. Bustamante violated that law by directing $3.8 million in contributions from a handful of California Indian tribes to a campaign committee he established when he ran for lieutenant governor. Mr. Bustamante said his old committee predates the fundraising limit law and therefore is not subject to it.

Mr. Bustamante sought last week to deflect criticism on the issue by pledging to use the money to fight Proposition 54. That initiative, sponsored by conservative civil-rights activist Ward Connerly, would prohibit state government from classifying people by race or ethnicity. The lieutenant governor has said he will use all money raised above fundraising limits to pay for antiÐProp 54 television commercials-in which he will star.

Mr. Johnson said that strategy is just another way for Mr. Bustamante to campaign for governor: "His new plan-his new scheme-is just as illegal as the first."

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