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California broadcasters announce plans for recall debate

Top-polling candidates to be invited

California state employees hand out the final list of gubernatorial candidates for the recall election.
California state employees hand out the final list of gubernatorial candidates for the recall election.

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SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- California broadcast officials announced plans Thursday for a debate for the top-polling gubernatorial recall candidates, but it's not clear how many of the 135 official contenders will be invited.

The California Broadcasters Association said any candidate with at least 10 percent support in various polls would be invited to the September 17 debate.

"Since producing a debate featuring all of the certified candidates is unrealistic, CBA will recommend inviting candidates who have a reasonable chance of winning," reads a news release from the association.

The vast field of candidates was certified Wednesday by the California Secretary of State's office and their names will appear on the October 7 recall ballot.

Voters will decide whether to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and, if so, who should replace him. Davis, whose popularity has plummeted with a sour state economy, will not be on the list of possible replacements.

A total of 247 people had originally filed papers to be on the ballot, but 112 of them didn't qualify because they either did not pay the required $3,500 filing fee or did not turn in the necessary 65 signatures.

The race -- dubbed a "fascinating bit of political drama" by President Bush -- is shaping up to be the wildest election in the country this fall. Davis says it will cost the state about $70 million.

The field of candidates includes a celluloid action hero, the state's Democratic lieutenant governor, last year's GOP gubernatorial nominee and a pornographic publisher.

Among the candidates: 50 Democrats, 42 Republicans, and 32 independents. There are four Green Party members, three Libertarians, two Natural Law Party members, and one candidate each from the American Independent Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party.

Independent and columnist Arianna Huffington turned up the heat Thursday on one of her rivals -- actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the front runner, according to various polls.

Huffington blasted Schwarzenegger as a "good friend of the Bush administration" beholden to special interests.(Full story)

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, announced that former Secretary of State George Shultz had joined his campaign team as an adviser. He had previously announced some changes to his campaign staff, including the addition of billionaire investor Warren Buffett as an unpaid senior financial and economic adviser. (Full story)

Bush was in California Thursday, but he avoided talking about the unwieldy race, focusing instead on the war on terrorism in comments to Marines in San Diego. White House aides had earlier rejected Democratic accusations of administration involvement in the recall.(Full story)

Davis focused Thursday on articulating his opposition to Proposition 54, which would restrict the government's ability to collect race-related data. That question will also be on the October 7 ballot.

Davis and Clinton

The embattled incumbent has been conferring with former President Bill Clinton, who is advising Davis on how to beat the recall. Davis told CNN that he's reached out to Clinton for help.(Full story)

The two men talked in person at an AFL-CIO convention in Chicago last week and have talked "several times" since then, according to a source familiar with talks between the two men.

The ballot promises to be unusual. State officials have introduced a new order for the English alphabet, which will determine the order that the names of the candidates will appear on the ballot.

For the purposes of the recall vote, the alphabet will begin with R, W and Q.

Schwarzenegger, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Bill Simon -- who lost to Davis nine months ago in the general election -- will be on the ballot alongside Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, former child actor Gary Coleman, and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, among others. (Gallery: The recall and candidates)

If the recall succeeds, the candidate with the most votes -- no majority is necessary -- will take over as governor and serve the remaining three years of Davis' term.

There could be another wrinkle to the ballot. There is, election officials noted, the possibility of write-in candidates.

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