Schwarzenegger enters California recall race; lieutenant governor breaks ranks with Dems

Thursday, August 7th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ With a surprise jump into California's recall race, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger touched off the heaviest tremors in the state's political earthquake to date, saying he wasn't afraid of attacks sure to come from Democrats and conservative Republicans alike.

But the aftershock from a day of topsy-turvy developments in the drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis came just hours later, when Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante broke party ranks to become the first prominent Democrat to declare his own candidacy.

Another Democrat, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, will also take out papers to run, his press secretary said early Thursday.

The announcements from Bustamante and Garamendi seemed to crack the foundation of Davis' survival plan, which until Wednesday had been keeping fellow Democrats off the ballot. Earlier in the day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein appeared to boost that strategy when the popular Democrat ruled out a run, saying the election was becoming ``more and more like a carnival every day.''

Then Schwarzenegger, 56, stole the spotlight when he announced his bid during a taping of ``The Tonight Show,'' telling Jay Leno that it was the toughest decision he's made since opting for a bikini wax in 1978.

``The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing,'' the ``Terminator'' actor said. ``The man that is failing the people more than anyone is Gray Davis. He is failing them terribly, and this is why he needs to be recalled and this is why I am going to run for governor.''

Schwarzenegger's advisers had said in recent days that he was leaning against putting his name on the Oct. 7 election ballot because of opposition from his wife, journalist and Kennedy relative Maria Shriver.

After his ``Tonight Show'' appearance, Schwarzenegger told reporters he made up his mind only after his wife told him: ``'You know something, I support you no matter what you do.'''

Schwarzenegger said he made the decision over the last few days and kept it a secret from everyone _ even his own advisers said they didn't expect it.

Davis' campaign committee responded by saying Schwarzenegger was merely the latest in a long list of people who have declared their intent to run, noting that Hustler publisher Larry Flynt is among them.

``The more candidates who join, the greater the likelihood that a small minority of voters will be controlling California's future,'' read a statement from Californians Against the Costly Recall, which was speaking for the governor.

Meanwhile, Bustamante, a Democrat and the first Hispanic elected to any statewide office in more than 100 years, planned to file for his candidacy Thursday, Bustamante spokeswoman Lynn Montgomery said Wednesday.

Bustamante's aides declined to elaborate on his announcement late Wednesday night. A spokesman for Davis also declined to comment on that development.

Garamendi, a former state senator and Assemblyman who served as a deputy Secretary of Interior under President Clinton, was to formally announce his candidacy Thursday morning, said spokesman Gary Gartner.

``He will bring to the governor's office tested leadership and a steady hand,'' Gartner said. Like Bustamante, Garamendi had previously said he would not run.

Another possible Democratic candidate was U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who had supported a Feinstein candidacy and said she might run if Feinstein didn't.

A little more than a month ago, Bustamante had denounced the effort to oust Davis as an ``expensive perversion of the recall process.'' That was before Schwarzenegger's entry gave the Republican-backed recall campaign a well-funded candidate with instant name recognition.

Not that Schwarzenegger can expect an easy time of it, as his campaign is likely to draw attacks from both Republicans and Democrats.

Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who has described himself as ``very liberal'' on social issues, said he expects attacks on the campaign trail from the party's conservative base, including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who funded the recall, state Sen. Tom McClintock. Both are running. Businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November, is also considering a run.

Issa and McClintock quickly issued statements saying Schwarzenegger's announcement wouldn't change their plans.

``The election marks a historic turning point in direction of this state. It deserves a very serious discussion of the plans and policies of the candidates, and I think Arnold's presence in the race will amplify that discussion,'' McClintock said.

Schwarzenegger's violence- and profanity-soaked movie career, allegations of womanizing and his lack of political experience also likely will be picked apart by candidates from both major parties.

Simon said on MSNBC that California's problems require ``serious candidates with serious ideas and serious solutions. Arnold's right that these are problems. But what are the solutions?''

Schwarzenegger, 56, vowed to campaign hard and spend as much of his own money as necessary to win. He said he didn't fear the likely attacks.

``I know that they're going to throw everything at me,'' he said.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, another moderate Republican, has said he would enter the race if Schwarzenegger did not, and polls have shown Riordan would be a stronger candidate than Schwarzenegger. Riordan had been assembling a campaign team on the assumption Schwarzenegger was out; his spokeswoman, Lisa Wolf, said Wednesday that he had no immediate comment.

Candidates have until a Saturday deadline to declare their intentions.

The recall election is yet another setback for Davis, who has seen his popularity plummet as the state grapples with a record $38 billion budget deficit. Davis is the first California governor to face a recall and would be only the second governor nationwide to be removed from office if the effort succeeds.

Political commentator Arianna Huffington declared Wednesday she would run as an independent.

``I'm not, to say the least, a conventional candidate. But these are not conventional times,'' said Huffington, the ex-wife of former Republican Congressman Michael Huffington. ``And if we keep electing the same kind of politicians who got us into the same kind of mess funded by the same kind of special interests, we'll never get out of this mess.''

Michael Huffington also has taken out papers, but has not indicated whether he will enter the race.

Meanwhile, California's Supreme Court justices huddled behind closed doors for hours Wednesday to decide whether to consider several challenges to the recall election, including a petition to bar any replacement candidates from the ballot.

The justices were expected to announce Thursday whether they would hear the petitions, a spokeswoman said.