As California House Members trudge through their state’s messy gubernatorial recall effort, both Democrats and Republicans are trying to decide whom to support and how to craft unified party strategies for success in October.
The 33 California Democrats, huddling for several weeks on how to approach the ordeal, have already announced unanimous opposition to a recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D). The next decision, according to Democratic sources, is whether to unite behind Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) as a fallback if the recall succeeds.
Several Democratic sources said Bustamante, the most prominent Democrat on the recall ballot, is close to winning the backing of the delegation. While divided on how to proceed, Democratic Members appear inclined to follow what many believe to be a confusing, two-tiered approach to maintaining control of the governor’s seat: opposing the recall while supporting Bustamante.
“It’s a matter of getting a majority of Members together to make the final decision on an endorsement,” said one aide to a California Democrat. “It’s something Members will decide, but it seems likely [they will back Bustamante].”
Several well-placed Democratic Caucus aides said the California delegation this week is likely to hold a fourth conference call in as many weeks to discuss their strategy. Less than half of the delegation participated in a conference call last week, and those who did remained undecided about what public position to take.
Members hope the next conference call includes a larger share of Golden State lawmakers, sources said.
“I would imagine there’s a good possibility that the California Democratic delegation will do a mini-roll call vote amongst the 33 and get a majority of the votes needed to endorse Cruz Bustamante for governor,” said another Democratic aide to a California Member.
On the Republican side of the race, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has gotten a big head start on his GOP rivals in picking up House support. Schwarzenegger is considered the leading Republican candidate on the 135-candidate ballot.
At least 11 Republican House Members have endorsed the actor, while the rest of the state’s 20-member GOP delegation remain undecided. Republicans Bill Simon and Tom
McClintock and Independent Peter Ueberroth have yet to pick up any Capitol Hill supporters.
GOP sources said the members of the delegation most active in rounding up support for Schwarzenegger have been Reps. David Dreier and Mary Bono.
Dreier, chairman of the California House GOP delegation, has been one of Schwarzenegger’s most vocal backers, as has been Rep. Doug Ose, California chairman of the Republican Main Street Partnership.
Other Golden State Republicans who have endorsed the action star include Reps. Christopher Cox, Dana Rohrabacher, Duke Cunningham, Ed Royce, Ken Calvert, Elton Gallegly, Jerry Lewis and Howard McKeon.
While Schwarzenegger has picked up some solid support, a few notable conservative lawmakers have conspicuously not announced their intentions, including a pair of Northern California conservatives, Reps. John Doolittle and Richard Pombo. Doolittle in particular often serves as a conservative political barometer in the state.
“He believes that any of the credible candidates would be an improvement over Gray Davis,” said Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Blackann, adding that her boss is not yet leaning toward any particular candidate.
On most issues, lawmakers like Doolittle and Pombo have much in common with Simon and McClintock. They and other conservatives appear to be waiting to see whether one of those two Republicans exits the race.
While McClintock has not yet drawn any Congressional endorsements, he planned to have meetings with some members of the delegation this past weekend.
John Feliz, McClintock’s campaign director, said the uncommitted members of the delegation are just waiting to see how the campaign plays out in the coming weeks before pledging their support to a candidate.
“These guys are doing a great job in Washington, but they’ve been a little out of it when it comes to California,” Feliz said. “They’ll have to play some catch-up now that they’re home.”
Feliz also had harsh words for those GOP lawmakers who have already endorsed Schwarzenegger.
“There’s a lot of explaining they’ll have to do to their constituents,” he said, arguing that conservative voters won’t like the idea that their Representatives are supporting a moderate like Schwarzenegger.
But an aide to an uncommitted Republican lawmaker dismissed the idea that conservatives should automatically oppose Schwarzenegger for his moderation, particularly on issues like abortion and gay rights.
“This crisis isn’t a social issues crisis,” said the aide. “It’s a budget crisis.”
As for the suggestion that the state’s top Republicans would band together to try to force Simon or McClintock out of the race, Feliz said any such effort would be a “fool’s errand.”
“The thing that gets a campaign out of the race is when they can’t raise money and can’t get support,” he said.
While the Republican hopefuls work to rally endorsements, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been working behind the scenes to broker unity among Democratic Members, helping lead the discussions and serving as a key liaison between the delegation and California state political leaders.
“Pelosi has been calling the shots,” said one Democratic aide.
Pelosi, who has spoken adamantly against the recall, said her delegation is intent on keeping Democratic control of the statehouse. “We’re going to fight the recall and hope it won’t be necessary to have an alternative. I’m glad we have only one Democratic candidate on the ballot and at the end of the day there will be a Democratic governor of California.”
So far, five California Democrats have individually endorsed Bustamante: Reps. Joe Baca, Dennis Cardoza, Cal Dooley, Brad Sherman and Diane Watson.