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Federal judges to reconsider recall delay

Panel had postponed October 7 vote

Gov. Gray Davis could face a recall vote on October 7 -- depending on what the courts decide.
Gov. Gray Davis could face a recall vote on October 7 -- depending on what the courts decide.

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Democratic nominees for president are speaking out against the California recall.
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A federal appellate court decided Friday to review a ruling postponing California's October 7 recall election, while embattled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis got more campaign help from a high-profile visitor -- this time, former Vice President Al Gore.

"This is about a very large struggle in our country. It is a struggle over the future of self-government," Gore said, echoing Davis' line that a recall would unfairly reverse his re-election victory of just last year. "Nobody ought to overturn the say of the people."

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's effort to get other candidates to boycott a debate next week sponsored by the California Broadcasters Association appeared to be faltering.

Bustamante, a Democrat, asked other candidates not to attend the event -- the only forum Republican front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to attend -- because candidates will receive questions in advance.

"We don't need a movie-star-scripted debate," Bustamante said at a campaign event Friday.

But GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock, who had initially expressed support for a boycott, issued a statement Friday saying he is now "looking forward" to attending because the CBA, after negotiating with the candidates, had ensured that the debate would be "free-spirited."

"The CBA has assured the McClintock campaign that there will be a one-minute limit to the scripted answers, followed by an 'interactive crossfire' type of exchange," he said.

However, CBA spokesman Mark Powers said no changes were made in the format. The one-minute limit on pre-scripted answers, followed by discussion with the other candidates, was always part of the debate, he said.

Two other candidates, Independent Arianna Huffington and Peter Camejo of the Green Party, were involved in discussions about not participating in the debate but have not agreed to a boycott.

A key Schwarzenegger supporter Friday rejected the implication by the other candidates that the actor-turned-politician chose the CBA event as his lone debate appearance because he will be able to rehearse answers ahead of time.

"There will be the questions provided, but, obviously, the candidates will have an opportunity to engage in a full exchange [with each other]," U.S. Rep. David Drier told CNN's Candy Crowley. "Here are candidates who are seeking to attack Arnold, and this is the only thing they can attack him on. He's been substantive, strong."

Drier also said that on behalf of the Schwarzenegger campaign, he had asked the CBA not to provide the questions in advance but was refused.

Also on Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to appoint an 11-judge panel to review a decision postponing the recall vote.

A three-judge panel of the same court had issued a ruling Monday delaying the vote until next year's presidential primary because of concerns about use of punch-card ballots in six counties.

A hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT) at the court's headquarters in San Francisco Monday. Each side has been allowed 30 minutes to argue its case. At the request of the media, the 9th Circuit judges have agreed to allow the hearing to be broadcast live -- a rare occurrence in federal courts.

The 11-judge panel, picked by lottery, includes eight judges appointed by Democratic presidents and three appointed by Republican presidents. Seven were appointed by former President Bill Clinton, who was in California earlier this week campaigning with Davis against the recall.

The 9th Circuit is considered to be among the most liberal appellate courts in the country -- and among the most frequently overturned by the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court. Recall proponents have vowed to take their case to the Supreme Court if they lose in the 9th Circuit.

Reacting to Friday's decision, Davis, whose political life is riding on the recall vote, said he did not want to delay the election, even though most political observers believe the additional five months could help him survive.

"The momentum is clearly growing against the recall. I believe we will beat the recall on October 7, and my attitude is, 'Let's just get it over with,' " he said after campaigning with Gore in Los Angeles.

Dave Gilliard, chief strategist for Rescue California, the group that launched the recall, applauded the decision to review the case.

"The three-judge panel was wrong on the law and wrong on the facts," he said in a written statement. "Their decision was so faulty and so overtly political that we believed all along it would be overturned."

Schwarzenegger also issued a statement saying the 9th Circuit "made the right decision" to review the case.

The court is considering a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several minority rights groups over use of punch-card ballots in six counties, with about 44 percent of the state's voters.

The three-judge panel ruled punch cards could disenfranchise voters because of flaws in that voting system, which became notorious during the 2000 presidential election dispute in Florida. It postponed the election until March, when new voting systems will be in place across the state.

Gore's joint appearances with Davis Friday in Los Angeles and San Francisco were the latest in a string of visits by prominent national Democrats, including Clinton and 2004 presidential candidates Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Bob Graham of Florida.

Speaking before the African-American Voter Registration, Education and Participation Project in Los Angeles, Davis and Gore both painted the recall as part of an anti-democratic campaign by Republicans that began with the impeachment of Clinton and continued with Gore's defeat in the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Davis, to the delight of the crowd, referred to the former vice president as "President Al Gore" and said he "should have been president of the United States."

Gore said pro-recall forces were trying to "make a spectacle out of our democracy."

In winning a second term last November, Davis did not win a majority of the votes, coming in at 47 percent, compared with 42 percent for his nearest opponent, GOP businessman Bill Simon.

CNN correspondents Bob Franken and Frank Buckley contributed to this report.

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