GOP Playing Limited Role in California Recall

Posted September 5, 2003 at 6:28pm

When Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) began making phone calls last week in preparation for a Saturday fundraiser for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he thought he would need hours to rack up commitments for the $100,000 he had pledged to raise for the actor’s gubernatorial campaign.

Instead, Ose said he got on the phone and “blew through that in an hour and a half,” substantially exceeding the original fundraising target.

“I’m working my tail off” for Schwarzenegger, said Ose, who hosted the fundraiser.

But few House Members are matching Ose’s effort.

While the Oct. 7 election to determine whether Gov. Gray Davis (D) should be removed from office — and who should replace him — is roiling the rest of California, Ose is one of only a few members of the California House delegation who appears to be heavily involved in the recall.

Half of California’s 20 House Republicans have endorsed Schwarzenegger to date, though only a few — principally, Reps. Ose, Dana Rohrabacher and David Dreier, who is co-chairman of the campaign — have taken a particularly active role.

The other 10 Republicans — most of whom come from the more conservative wing of the party — have not endorsed Schwarzenegger or the other Republicans seeking to replace Davis, such as conservative state Sen. Tim McClintock.

Meanwhile, the Golden State’s 33 House Democrats, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), have united behind a strategy to oppose the recall but endorse Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) as an alternative candidate in case the recall passes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) opposes the recall but will not back Bustamante because she does not want to be seen as legitimizing the election.

The recall is beginning to get some attention in Congress beyond the state delegation. Key Hispanic Democrats, for example, are working to secure Bustamante’s victory if Davis is ousted.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) said he is trying to organize the 20 Hispanic Democrats in the House to travel to California before the Sept. 22 voter registration deadline to rally support for Bustamante. He is also hoping the Members will work in the state to get out the Hispanic vote.

“We’re going to support him,” Menendez said. “It’s a historic opportunity to get all the Hispanic Democrats to make a statement. I hope the recall doesn’t succeed, but if it does Cruz Bustamante is the only viable candidate.”

In addition to encouraging Hispanics to vote, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC, is also leading an effort to raise money for Bustamante.

In a memo dispersed last week, Baca urged all members of the CHC to give $2,000 to Bustamante’s campaign. Baca was an early supporter of Bustamante’s, and the two served together in the California Assembly in the 1990s.

“Members have been very receptive,” Baca said. “They are glad to give him a contribution. It shows our solidarity and unity.”

Regardless of what Members of Congress do, it’s clear that the candidates for governor aren’t making endorsements from the delegation a major priority. Not that Schwarzenegger, who is the closest thing to a GOP establishment candidate, is turning down Congressional support.

“It’s about Republican leaders coming together around sensible governing principles and someone who has a chance to be a real agent of change,” said Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger’s campaign.

Rohrabacher accompanied the actor on a stroll along the Huntington Beach boardwalk in late August and has made TV appearances on his behalf.

Ose, in addition to the fundraiser in Sacramento on Saturday, chaperoned the actor at the state fair over Labor Day weekend. His campaign manager, top fundraiser and former district director are also now toiling for Schwarzenegger’s operation.

Dreier has been the most visible Member on TV during the recall, serving as a surrogate for the oft-insulated novice candidate. He has also been the Schwarzenegger campaign’s chief debate negotiator — though Schwarzenegger was noticeably absent at the first debate of the recall campaign last week.

“The leadership of the campaign thought he’d be an appropriate person, a person with the right kind of stature and experience, to be co-chairman and the lead negotiator on debates,” Stutzman said of Dreier, the 12-termer who is chairman of the Rules Committee.

Al Pross, editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes Golden State political races, said Schwarzenegger does not reap the traditional benefits a first-time candidate gets from being endorsed by a Member of Congress. That’s because Schwarzenegger already has such phenomenal name recognition, he said, that he won’t need to rely on Members of Congress to become known in their districts.

But Pross said endorsements from Members would bolster Schwarzenegger anyway.

“He should get as much support from elected officials as he can because it diminishes criticism that he’s not qualified,” he said.

For more conservative House Republicans from California, the recall presents a dilemma. Many are close to McClintock, politically and personally. But they are also aware that recent polls have shown Schwarzenegger — an unabashed social liberal — as the Republican with the best chance of winning.

McClintock’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment late last week. But aides to two influential Golden State Republicans from the conservative wing of the party said their bosses plan to stay neutral for now.

“He thinks that any of the credible candidates would be better than Gray Davis,” said Laura Blackann, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

Doug Heye, a spokesman for Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), said the Congressman may decide to endorse someone after “hearing from the candidates how they plan to deal with the fiscal crisis.”

However, Steve Ding, the Resources staff director, has just taken a leave of absence to become McClintock’s political director.

But even if Pombo endorses — in a statement that probably sums up the views of many California Members about the recall — Heye said he did not think the Congressman would expend much energy on the recall.

“With Congress back in session,” Heye said, “I don’t know how much time he’s going to have.”

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.