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Feinstein Passes on Recall, Leaving Democrats Without a Frontrunner

With the deadline for candidates to get on the California recall ballot only a few days away, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced Wednesday that she will not make the race.

“After thinking a great deal about this recall, its implications for the future and its misguided nature, I have decided that I will not place my name on the ballot,” Feinstein said in a statement.

The 70-year-old Senator had been seen as a potential savior by some Golden State Democrats who believe that the current strategy of rallying behind embattled Gov. Gray Davis (D) is dangerous and that the party must put a prominent candidate on the ballot to avoid a GOP victory.

Feinstein, one of the most popular politicians in the state, had been seen as perhaps the only candidate who could both clear the Democratic field and defeat any Republican challengers. Until today, she had left the door open to the possibility that she might enter the race at the last minute.

Although her statement made clear that she believes “the recall is a terrible mistake,” it did not include any strong words of support for Davis’ performance as governor.

“Nine months ago, 3.5 million Californians voted in a fair election to re-elect Governor Davis,” Feinstein said. “I believe he should be given the opportunity to finish his term.”

Her decision leaves the potential Democratic field in a state of flux. No one from the party has committed to getting on the ballot, but several potential names continue to circulate.

Ex-Rep. Leon Panetta (D) is seen by some Democrats as prominent enough to clear the field as Feinstein might have done. But it is unclear whether Panetta — who has been out of office since 1993 and out of the public spotlight since he left the White House chief of staff post in 1996 — would have the same party-unifying effect as Feinstein.

Four-term Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D), meanwhile, had been vocal in encouraging Feinstein to run and is now saying she may enter the race herself. “I’m becoming the draft candidate,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to Sanchez, California Democratic Reps. Cal Dooley, Brad Sherman and Maxine Waters have expressed doubts about the “rally behind Davis” strategy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) has also voiced concerns.

On the Republican side, all eyes tonight will be on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” where actor Arnold Schwarzenegger will announce his decision. If, as expected, the action star demurs, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (R) would appear more likely to enter the race.

Within the House GOP delegation, Rep. Darrell Issa, the primary financial backer of the recall, is definitely in. Rep. Elton Gallegly is also considering a run but has not made any final decision.

Arianna Huffington, the ex-wife of former Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Calif.), announced today that she would run as an Independent. Michael Huffington is also considering a bid.

Aside from Feinstein’s announcement, the best recent news for Davis came Tuesday, when the AFL-CIO’s executive council officially called on all Democrats “to stand united with the governor.”

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