The Fight of His Life

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Just a few weeks after it started to get noticed, the campaign to recall California Governor Gray Davis has gone from being a nettlesome political problem to a real threat to his survival. Organizers of the recall say they have collected more than 500,000 of the 900,000 signatures necessary to qualify for a recall election. "The odds of the recall qualifying have increased to the point of near certainty," says Republican consultant Dan Schnur. And a Democrat strategist acknowledged: "Several people around [Davis] are of the assumption that they have to prepare as if it is going to qualify."

Davis has seen his approval rating plummet to a mere 27%. Constituents are outraged that the budget surplus he inherited when he entered office has deteriorated to a deficit of $38 billion, and that he's championing an $8 billion tax increase. But few could have expected that these problems would exact such a swift political price. If the recall proponents get 900,000 valid signatures by mid-July, a costly special election will be held in the fall. Voters will be asked whether Davis should be removed from office — and, on the same ballot, which candidate should replace him. With no runoff, the candidate who gets a plurality of votes wins — which makes it a wide-open contest. Several prominent Republicans, including losing gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, are eyeing the seat. One prospective candidate, multimillionaire Congressman Darrell Issa, has put up $445,000 of his own money to back the recall effort. Democrats are in a trickier position; while publicly denouncing the recall drive, they could be scrambling to enter the race should it succeed. Davis has launched an antirecall campaign, raising $500,000, hiring 250 people, and gathering 200,000 signatures opposing the measure. But it may be too late.