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California governor to face recall vote

Davis vows to 'fight like a Bengal tiger'

California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, branded the Republican-led drive to oust him ``a hostile takeover by the right.''
California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, branded the Republican-led drive to oust him ``a hostile takeover by the right.''

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SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- California voters will go to the polls on October 7, when they'll be asked to choose whether to recall embattled Gov. Gray Davis -- and, if so, who his replacement should be.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante on Thursday selected the last possible date allowed under California law, which requires the recall election to take place between 60 and 80 days from Wednesday, when officials certified an adequate number of signatures to warrant a recall vote.

Davis, a Democrat, will be the first California governor ever to face such an election and the first U.S. governor to face one in more than 80 years.

Elected to a second term last November with 47 percent of the vote, Davis faces tremendous criticism over his handling of California's fiscal crisis. The state has a $38 billion deficit, and many accuse Davis of hiding the truth about the state's problems during his re-election campaign.

Republicans looking to replace Davis have yet to officially announce their candidacy, but a chief suitor for the position -- U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California -- has long made himself known. The conservative congressman financed much of the recall campaign.

"Every governor we've ever had in California has been better than Gray Davis." Issa told CNN.

Much speculation has surrounded movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, spawning takeoffs on the title of his movie "Total Recall," but the actor -- dubbed the "Terminator" -- has avoided making any official announcement either way.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has also been floated as a possible candidate, and Republican sources said businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in the November election, is likely to run.

Prominent California Democrats have said they would not run against Davis -- which could be key to his political survival. He may be able to mobilize enough Democratic support to keep him in office, while multiple Republican candidates could split a vote. There will be no runoff in the recall election, so whoever gets the most votes wins.

Republican leaders in California are working to unify voters behind one candidate.

But Davis hardly has a lock even on those who usually support Democrats. Polls show him deeply unpopular with voters -- in a recent Field Poll, only 23 percent of California voters approved of his job performance, while 66 percent disapproved.

Davis branded the entire effort to oust him a "hostile takeover by the right" and vowed to "fight like a Bengal tiger."

Bustamante, a fellow Democrat, railed against the recall effort Thursday. "Just because you're mad at somebody doesn't mean you spend $35 million to oust somebody," he said. "I think and I hope the voters will turn this down (by supporting Davis) because what we're going to end up having is a time of perpetual elections.

"It wouldn't surprise me one bit that the other side has a recall of whoever wins this election, and then where does it stop?"

In an interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff, Davis insisted the recall is less about him and more about the desire of Republicans to stop what he termed a "progressive" agenda -- support for abortion rights, gun control, education reform and health care for children.

"This election is not about changing governors, it's about changing direction," he said. "I believe the voters of California are going to opt for a progressive agenda, not a conservative agenda."

But Issa said voters who stood in line to sign petitions weren't asking "the question of are you pro-life or pro-choice."

"What they asked, and asked very strongly, is, 'Are you better off today with Gray Davis, or will you be better off with just about anyone [else]? And they answered resoundingly," he told Woodruff. "We will look for a replacement knowing that every governor we've ever had in California has been better than Gray Davis."

Supporters of the recall turned in 1.65 million signatures, about 1.36 million of which -- about 82 percent -- were deemed valid, according to figures released by the secretary of state's office.

A county-by-county look at the signature totals shows support for the recall centered in Southern California, with nearly three-quarters of the valid signatures coming from just three counties -- Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.

By contrast, less than 100,000 of the signatures came out of the six counties in the Bay Area, with just 4,135 collected in heavily Democratic San Francisco.

--CNN Correspondents Judy Woodruff and Candy Crowley and Political Editor John Mercurio contributed to this report.

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