By John Mercurio
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Bill Clinton kissed babies and shouted down the California recall yesterday at a black church and a Latino street fair. (Oh, Gray Davis was there too.)
Today at 2 p.m. EDT, Clinton and Davis are to talk to kids at William Jefferson Clinton Elementary School. Next up on Davis's Democratic dance card: Bob Graham (Tuesday), John Kerry (Wednesday), Jesse Jackson (Tuesday and Thursday), Al Gore (Friday) and John Edwards (next weekend).
Davis is so booked that he couldn't find time to visit with another would-be president, Dick Gephardt, who'll be raising money in San Francisco today and Los Angeles tomorrow. Their campaigns blamed scheduling conflicts and said a joint appearance before the October 7 election is possible. (A recent Grind on Gephardt's big issues)
Meanwhile, President Bush travels today to Michigan. And that's about as close to Arnold Schwarzenegger as Bush, or any national Republican, plans to be until October 8.
We're witnessing, of course, the climax of the Democrats' long-awaited strategy to morph the recall into a national referendum -- the next chapter in the GOP plot that started with impeachment, continued in Florida in 2000, headed west this spring to Colorado and Texas (redistricting) and arrived this summer in California.
For those who couldn't connect those dots, Davis spelled it out yesterday. "My friends, some of these same forces, particularly in Washington, have used the Constitution when they tried to overturn the election of 1996, when America re-elected President Clinton, by trying to impeach him in 1998," he told the congregation at First AME Church, an organ thumping not-so-softly behind him. "It was wrong. It failed, but those are the kinds of forces we're against."
For his part, Schwarzenegger continues to oblige the national media this week. But in the decidedly nonpolitical venues he has chosen, don't expect to see a big "R" next to his name.
Oprah, a family friend, interviews Arnold and Maria today live at 10 a.m. EDT in Chicago for her fall season premiere, a good chance for Arnold to tend to his women (voter) problem. CNN's Larry King talks to Arnold on Wednesday. Sources say Howard Stern will also quiz Arnold, sometime midweek.
The daily travels of Davis and Schwarzenegger underscore not one but two of the biggest problems pro-recall Republicans face in this unprecedented race.
First, California's love for Democrats is stronger than their disdain for Davis, which means the unpopular Democrat can convince voters who hate him to oppose the recall ... because they still love his party.
Second, as of this writing at least, California Dems are unified, Republicans are not. Dems coaxed Davis and Cruz Bustamante onto the same stage Saturday, making them look a lot more like friends than Schwarzenegger and Tom "Arnold's an amateur" McClintock did across town at the LAX Marriott. Out-of-state Dems can land here, attack the recall, and leave with their party bona fides intact. George W. Bush or Dick Cheney -- or John McCain, for that matter -- can't wade into that fight and emerge unbloodied.
'It's you I'm worried about'
The church service Clinton and Davis attended Sunday was among the most colorful that the Grind has covered recently (actor and alleged wife-killer Robert Blake was there, for example). But notably absent was the venom many parishioners expected from Clinton. He railed against the recall, of course, but not in sharply partisan terms. He even cited the young effort to recall Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, as an unfair attack on a brave pol who's just trying to improve his state's schools.
Later, at a restaurant on Olvera Street, Clinton even backed away from a chance to lay the recall at the feet of Karl Rove. "Oh, I don't know about that," he said.
Following some advice he has given Davis during their numerous talks about the recall, Clinton also sought to portray the recall as bigger than Davis.
"Yeah, Gray Davis and I have been friends for a long time, and I don't want this to happen to him. But this is way bigger than him," Clinton said. "It's you I'm worried about. It's California I'm worried about. I don't want you to become a laughing stock, a carnival, or the beginning of a circus in America where we just throw people out as soon as they make a tough decision. Don't do this."