SAN FRANCISCO -- If ever there were an example of how quickly political fortunes can change, it's that of beleaguered California Gov. Gray Davis. The most recent polling numbers suggest a majority of the Golden State's residents want him out of office in a recall election. But for that to happen, Republicans may have to turn to a true "Terminator" as the state's alternate choice.
Davis, whose haughty demeanor and slick style have finally caught up with him, appears to be the poster boy for politicians who care only about one thing -- themselves. Prior to his re-election last year, Davis looked to posturing for a future run for the White House. He even spoke once in front of a blue oval sign designed to resemble the one that hangs in the White House pressroom. Subliminal, but silly.
Well, that version of California dreaming is out the window. Today, with an approval rating in the 20 percentiles, Davis faces an out-of-control state budget even as he claims he had prior knowledge of the state's huge deficits that he didn't disclose.
The recall petition, launched by Bay Area Congressman Darrell Issa, likely will be certified by the California secretary of state this week. This despite endless lawsuits and challenges by Davis allies. Conservatives outside California might wonder how a Democratic incumbent governor in a left-leaning state could be sinking so fast. At least in part the answer is a massive defection of moderate Democrats away from Davis. As two traditional Democratic voters -- a successful Oakland businesswoman and her husband -- put it, "We're just tired of him putting politics ahead of dealing with the problems." Surprisingly, both said, "We don't vote Republican, but if Arnold Schwarzenegger runs, we're for him all the way."
That brings us to the national fallout from the California crisis. Just this past weekend, top Democratic leaders, including Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and powerful San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, held a rally here to show support for Davis. But the rally appeared over-staged, and those in attendance probably spent half their time dodging the panhandlers who now choke the city's streets. This Brown isn't to be confused with "the other Brown," Jerry Brown. The latter Brown is the "Dharma and Greg"-style former governor who is now the very effective mayor of Oakland, a city he has transformed into the rising star community of Northern California.
Waiting in the wings are Issa, the two top former GOP candidates for Davis's seat -- one-time Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Bill Simon -- and, of course, Schwarzenegger.
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