LOS ANGELES: A recall effort against California Governor Gray Davis that only months ago seemed unlikely is now moving toward becoming a reality, leaving both Democrats and Republicans rushing to plan full-scale election campaigns in the coming weeks.
Supporters of the effort to oust Davis, mainly backed by Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, announced recently that they have collected more than 1.6 million signatures in favor of the ballot measure, well over the required 897,158.
The announcement shifted the strategies on both sides as the specter of a fall election takes shape.
Democratic strategist Steve Smith, who is heading the anti-recall group Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall, said his side is prepared to spend upwards of $15 million campaigning for Davis. Dave Gilliard, head of pro-recall group Rescue California, told the media his group has a $13 million budget. Pro-Davis forces also filed a legal challenge to the recall effort last week, charging that signature collectors were not registered California voters, a violation of the law. If successful, the class-action suit would force county election officials to verify the voter registration of petition handlers.
The tactic could slow a recall election until next March, when the Presidential primary is expected to draw out more Democratic voters.
Despite the success of the petition drive, for which gatherers were paid $1 per signature, many California Republican politicians have stayed clear of the issue, fearing that the cost of an election and the subsequent challenges facing a new GOP governor could spark a backlash. Republicans outside the state have also declined involvement, leaving Democrats to blame the effort on "Republican extremists" in the media.
The media has also not embraced the recall effort, with much coverage focusing on the cost of a new election (which could be upwards of $30 million in an already cash-strapped state), the amount paid to signature gatherers, and the limited GOP support.
Still, pro-recall forces are trying to center attention on Davis' low approval rating (hovering at about 21%), as well as California's budget crisis.
So far, Issa is the only Republican to announce his candidacy should a new election take place, although the press is hounding actor Arnold Schwarzenegger about the possibility of entering the race.