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With Mounting Confidence, Gov. Davis Campaigns Against Recall

By Dean E. Murphy

The New York Times -- WALNUT CREEK, Calif.

As Gov. Gray Davis of California left the first recall debate here on Wednesday, he had the air of confidence of a man gaining control over his political destiny. Though the outcome of the Oct. 7 recall election remains anyone’s guess, and Davis continues to trail even in his campaign’s internal polls, there is a growing sentiment among Democrats and many political analysts that Davis has a fighting chance of surviving the effort to oust him.

Just a few weeks ago, many of the same people had written off Davis’ prospects and were suggesting the Democrats’ only salvation lay with Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, one of the 135 candidates lined up for the governor’s job should he lose the recall vote.

“Sometimes you like the devil you have more than the devil you don’t have, so you hold your nose, and say, ‘OK,”’ said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at the California State University, Sacramento. “I think he has a shot, and I wouldn’t have said that a month ago.”

Davis seems to be benefiting indirectly from divisions within the Republican Party, reflected by a standoff between the party’s two leading candidates for his job, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock. If Davis loses the recall vote, which will be determined by a simple majority, the successor candidate with the most votes on the second part of the ballot would become governor.

Efforts have failed by top Republicans to get McClintock, the contest’s most heralded conservative, to drop out. Even if they were to succeed before Oct. 7, McClintock’s name would remain on the replacement ballot and would likely draw the votes of his most dedicated followers anyway.

Davis also has the advantage that Bustamante, the top Democrat among the possible successors, is a lackluster campaigner who has staked out many positions to the left of Davis.