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Inside Politics

Congressman seeks to drive out Davis

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans in California are a pretty miserable bunch. Democrats control every statewide office.

But this week, there was a ray of hope -- in the form of the political Play of the Week.

Why do Democrats control everything in California?

Because the Republicans are too right wing for a state whose motto might as well be, "Whatever turns you on."

Gov. Gray Davis was elected governor twice by demonizing his opponents as too right wing for California.

But an obscure Republican congressman figured out a strategy that could bring Davis down: Make him the issue, not us.

Darrell Issa spent $1.7 million of his own money on a petition drive to recall Davis. This week, there was the payoff. The recall effort was certified.

The question on the October 7 ballot will not be what it was in 1998 and 2002 -- Gray Davis or a Republican? For once it will be, Gray Davis or not Gray Davis?

With the governor's popularity in the low 20s, Republicans think they can win that one.

"It's not about Darrell Issa," Issa said. "This is about whether Gray Davis should be recalled for cause by the voters."

Oh yeah, says Davis. Think again. The governor intends to turn Issa into his opponent.

"Darrell Issa is a right-winger," Davis said during a recent appearance on CNN. "He's against gun control. He won't support a moratorium on offshore drilling. And he's not for a woman's right to choose."

You see, Issa is running on the ballot to replace Davis. Some Republican strategists would like Issa to disappear, so the party can rally behind someone harder for Davis to demonize -- like actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Issa said he's not going anywhere: "I intend to be there every day for the rest of Gray's 100 days, making his life and his departure a certainty, and making his time he has left in office the most miserable that I can."

So far, Issa has kept that promise. And he wins the political Play of the Week.

If the race becomes Davis versus Issa, Davis can win.

But if the alternative is someone broadly acceptable -- say, a moderate Republican or another Democrat -- then the race becomes Davis versus Davis. In that case, Davis is in big trouble.

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