Pressure Mounts on DiFi

Senator Has Rebuffed Entreaties to Run in Recall Election — So Far

Posted July 30, 2003 at 6:13pm

With the deadline for entering California’s gubernatorial recall election fast approaching, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) said Wednesday that she is flattered by the calls from some of her home-state colleagues that she become a candidate and push aside Gov. Gray Davis (D).

But Feinstein pointedly declined to comment about whether she would enter the race or about her feelings on which way the recall battle is headed.

“It’s a very heartfelt vote of confidence and I’m appreciative of it,” Feinstein said of expressions of support from Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D) and Cal Dooley (D), both of whom urged Feinstein to enter the Oct. 7 recall election.

“But I have no further comment,” she said, declining an offer to make any sort of unequivocal statement about the race.

Sanchez — who offered herself as a possible gubernatorial candidate in the recall election — and Dooley both spoke out Tuesday as a group of senior California Democratic leaders was meeting in San Francisco to discuss ways to save the embattled Davis. Their statements were seen as the first cracks in the public unity Democratic elected officials have displayed in their opposition to the recall.

It also highlighted the Democrats’ dilemma as the Aug. 9 filing deadline for the election approaches. While they’d like to bash recall opponents as right wingers who are trying to subvert the November 2002 election results giving Davis a second term, the reality is that without a viable candidate on the ballot, the Democrats could lose the election to one of any number of Republicans.

In an interview Wednesday, Dooley said his comments merely reflected political reality.

“I’m not willing to buy into a strategy where we’re betting all of our chips on a bet that Gray Davis can beat the recall,” he said. “There is a chance that he can beat it. There’s also a significant chance that he will not be able to defeat the recall.”

Bob Mulholland, political consultant for the California Democratic Party, discounted the Members’ comments.

“Every day some elected official somewhere says, ‘Oh, maybe so and so should run,’” he said. “Senator Feinstein is not running.”

Art Torres, the state Democratic Party chairman, went so far as to suggest that Sanchez was simply trying to boost her profile for a future statewide run.

“It’s a smart political move on her part if that’s what she wants to do,” said Torres, who added that he doubts Sanchez will run for governor in the recall election.

Meanwhile, a pair of other critical players in the effort to stop the recall, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), reiterated their opposition in interviews Wednesday. But both also left open some wiggle room should the political situation spin out of Davis’ control.

Clinton, who heads to California next week as part of her book tour and national fundraising drive for herself and other Democrats, said she has not talked to Feinstein about the race and still expects to be waging rhetorical war against the recall.

Calling the entire situation “such a bizarre circumstance,” Clinton said. “I’m just going to do everything I can — until informed otherwise — to fight against the recall. Right now, as far as I know, we’re all fighting against the recall.”

Boxer, who is up for re-election in 2004, said that the resolution this week of the state budget impasse, which shored up a $38 billion deficit, might be able to temper the situation and reinforce support for Davis.

“We have to see how the public reacts. … Let’s just see how the public reacts. There’s still time,” Boxer said.

While California’s political community was assessing Dooley and Sanchez’ remarks, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) issued statements Wednesday reiterating their support for Davis.

Farr, who until recently was chairman of the state’s Democratic House delegation, said the Golden State’s 33 Democratic House Members remain “100 percent opposed to the recall.”

Despite such talk, there is nevertheless universal agreement among California Democrats — and many in Washington, D.C. — that Feinstein would be the prohibitive favorite if she entered the recall election. Democratic Senatorial Committee Campaign Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said Wednesday that he has had no talks with Feinstein about the issue, and to the best of his knowledge neither had Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) nor other Senate leaders.

If Feinstein were to enter the race and win the remaining three-plus years of Davis’ term, she would get to appoint her replacement in the Senate, someone who would serve until a special election in November 2004. At the top of the list for Feinstein replacements would be Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) and Rep. Jane Harman (D), who lost the 1998 gubernatorial primary to Davis.

Bustamante would be a historic pick because he is Hispanic, but Harman may be a more practical pick because she is a multimillionaire. If she were to self-finance a 2004 Senate race, that would save the DSCC precious dollars that could go toward defending Democratic seats in the South.