If the recall is on, is Schwarzenegger in?

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    GOP hopefuls plot for recall chess game

    Reprinted from the recent edition of the newsletter Political Pulse.

    By Anthony York

    Only in California can a gubernatorial front-runner tell the press with a straight face that he is postponing public discussion of his political future until after the new Terminator movie is released. But that’s exactly what Arnold Schwarzenegger is saying, through spokesman George Gorton.

    But Schwarzenegger himself, cover boy for July’s Esquire Magazine, sounds very much like a political candidate. “Yes, I would love to be governor of California,” Schwarzenegger tells the mag. “If the state needs me, and if there’s no one I think is better, then I will run.”

    Schwarzenegger’s political future, like all California gubernatorial wannabes, is in limbo now as petitions circulate in the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis. But if and when the recall qualifies for the ballot, Schwarzenegger may be tempted, among other things, by the prospect of not having to run in a GOP primary. A conservative GOP source tells Political Pulse that there is already a lack of enthusiasm about a Schwarzenegger candidacy among GOP party loyalists. And one need only to ask Richard Riordan about how important that support is in a Republican primary.

    “He’s more Kennedy than Reagan,” the GOP source says of Schwarzenegger, a reference to Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Kennedy Shriver, niece of John and Robert Kennedy, as well as Schwarzenegger’s moderate political views.

    That sentiment among some party activists may make a recall run more appealing to Schwarzenegger, who along with Riordan is said to be looking seriously at the race. But the two men are close friends, and confer frequently about their political plans. If one of them makes the run, the other would step aside. Private GOP polls have shown soft support for Riordan, and the former Los Angeles mayor has said privately that he would defer to Schwarzenegger.

    But if the recall qualifies and Schwarzenegger takes a pass, Riordan may seek the statehouse as an independent, according to sources close to the former mayor. Other names in the hypothetical hopper include state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. (A Republican polling firm, Moore Information, conducted a telephone poll of 600 registered voters last month, and found that Rice would beat Schwarzenegger by 50 points in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, for what it’s worth.) Also looking at the race is former GOP nominee Bill Simon, whose numbers are “surprisingly strong” according to Republicans who have seen the private polls.

    But at least one former Simon supporter says he will support Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista. It was Issa’s cash that gave life to the recall movement, and Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, says Republicans owe Issa a debt of gratitude.

    “Most folks know that without Darrell Issa, this thing would have died,” Haynes says. “He has the strongest claim to say, ‘Those who support the recall should back me for governor. I’m the one who got rid of Gray Davis.’ He will be the one that made it go, and I think most people will respect that.”

    But Haynes understands that if and when there is a recall vote, it will not just be Republicans voting. While Issa may be his choice, Haynes says he welcomes candidates of all ideological stripes to throw their hats into the race. The more alternatives to Davis on the ballot, he says, the better the chances that the recall will succeed.

    “I happen to think the more the merrier,” he says. “You’re going to have more people campaigning to get rid of the governor, putting money into the effort to get rid of Davis. If that means having a Richard Riordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, (Democratic Lt. Gov.) Cruz Bustamante – whoever wants get involved, we’ll be better off.”

    Meanwhile, a rift among Davis foes about when to put the recall on the ballot has apparently subsided. Originally, there were reports that recall leader Ted Costa wanted to place the recall on the March ballot, forcing Democratic legislative candidates to take a stand recalling Davis. But Republicans feared placing the recall on the same ballot as the Democratic presidential primary would boost Davis’s chances. Now, Costa says, recall forces will have the necessary signatures by July 4, and hope to have a special election called as soon as possible.

    “It’d be nice to have a November election. It would be nice to have one in October for Halloween, or one for Christmas. I have no power over that though,” Costa says. “It’s not up to me to decide.”

    Some of the power in determining when the election is held will rest with county officials, Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and Bustamante. Recall officials must submit – 890,000 signatures of registered voters to place the recall on the ballot. (They are expected to collect about 1.2 million to allow for invalid signatures.) Once the Secretary of State certifies the petitions, the Lt. Gov. has a window of between 60 and 80 days to call the election. That means if recall forces want to qualify the measure before the November ballot, they must get their signatures certified before Aug. 15. If Shelley wanted to hold up the election, Costa says, he could try to delay certifying the signatures until after that date.

    The recall could also be slowed down if county registrars drag their feet on the certification process, though those offices are often the least willing to play politics. If the verification process on the county level extends beyond Sept. 3, Bustamante has the power to consolidate the recall election with the March 2 primary.

    Republicans would like to avoid giving Bustamante the power to place the recall on the March or the November ballot Nov. 4 is the date of the San Francisco municipal elections. Republicans fear voters casting ballots for mayor in one of the state’s most liberal cities would bring Democrats to the polls, and hamper the recall’s chances.

    Democrats have expressed skepticism about the pace recall forces claim to be gaining signatures to qualify for the ballot. The next test comes on June 23, when the Secretary of State releases an update on how many petitions have been turned in to county offices.