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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

For McClintock, a 'bridge too far?'

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Editor

Republicans in his face? How much pressure may Tom McClintock feel after Wednesday's debate to step aside for Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Republicans in his face? How much pressure may Tom McClintock feel after Wednesday's debate to step aside for Arnold Schwarzenegger?

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Morning Grind
California Recall
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Tom McClintock

LOS ANGELES, California -- You could argue that yesterday ranked among the most decisive days in California's recall, given the pivotal, albeit predictable, court ruling that finalized the October 7 election date.

But with all due respect to Tuesday, the Grind predicts that today will be even bigger. We might be going out on a limb here, but we know you expect nothing less.

Assuming that Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't self-immolate in tonight's 90-minute debate in Sacramento, look for a series of high-profile GOP endorsements to head his way. Such nods would tighten the vice on Tom McClintock, pressuring him to quit, establishing Arnold as the party's candidate and, presumably, catapult the actor-candidate into the role of leading man.

Jumping the gun yesterday was Jim Brulte, the state Senate GOP leader and perhaps the most influential Republican in California, saying that Schwarzenegger is "the only Republican that can beat Cruz Bustamante." While he stopped short of urging McClintock to drop out, Brulte said McClintock "puts at risk not only the election of a Republican governor, but the recall itself. ... For Tom, the governorship is simply a bridge too far."

Schwarzenegger himself came close to muscling his GOP rival out of the race: "I think that McClintock should think about it seriously," he said yesterday in Sacramento. "I think it would be tougher to win this race with having two Republicans in there."

Issa ice?

Sources tell the Grind that other major Republicans could join Arnold as early as Thursday, including Darrell Issa, Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth.

Issa said yesterday that he'll give McClintock and Schwarzenegger "a day or two" to decide who will quit before he endorses. "I've made it very clear that, if one candidate doesn't do the right thing, I will weigh in, in favor of one candidate, not because I don't like the other candidate, but because the will of the people is more important than the ambition of any one person," Issa said. "It has to happen."

Issa wouldn't specifically say he wanted McClintock out. But, he said, focusing the campaign on "ideological grounds," as McClintock has done, is "simply wrong."

"I talked to Tom McClintock before he got into this race. He told me a couple of things that I'm going to hold him to," Issa added. "One, he said he wouldn't get in if it wasn't a crowded field. Two, he said he wouldn't be a spoiler. And, three, he said he could do the math."

McClintock's campaign responded by attacking Issa. An aide told KNBC-TV that Issa is "highly unstable," that he's "going to implode."

The aide said Issa "clearly doesn't handle stress well" and "needs to chill out."

Schwarzenegger aides have planned a big pep rally after the debate, starting around 11 p.m. EDT at Cal Expo-Building C in Sacramento. Aides don't expect to fill the arena, which seats something like 5,000 people. But they do expect a big crowd.

On the debate deck

Meanwhile, inside the student union at California State University, Sacramento, the five major candidates will meet at 9 p.m. EDT for their first and only face-off. Moderator Stan Statham, CEO and president of the California Broadcasters Association (CBA), will be interviewed live on CNN in the 3 p.m. EDT hour. He says he expects the debate to go something like this:

• In each of its 12 pre-released questions (Grind extra: Open-book debate; Bustamante, others balk over debate format), the CBA will roll video of a California voter posing the query. One candidate will then be selected to start the discussion with a one-minute reply. After that, any of the other four candidates can jump in, interrupt or add to a rival's reply. There are no other timing limits.

• Organizers envision each question prompting a five- to seven-minute discussion on one topic. Statham will judge when and whether to move on and will work to keep all five candidates involved.

• While there are a dozen questions available, Statham realistically expects to get through just ten. Each candidate will have a chance to answer two of them first.

Yes, but can he debate? Arnold Scwharzenegger, seen here in a Tuesday town-hall session, makes his only debating appearance of the recall race on Wednesday evening.
Yes, but can he debate? Arnold Scwharzenegger, seen here in a Tuesday town-hall session, makes his only debating appearance of the recall race on Wednesday evening.

• The candidates will sit at a V-shaped table. Statham will stand at the head of the table, looking at a wide shot of the stage. Sitting left to right, as seen by TV viewers, will be Schwarzenegger, McClintock, Peter Camejo and Statham. On the other side of the table will be Arianna Huffington and Cruz Bustamante. (The order was chosen last Friday by CBA organizers at Sacramento State University.)

Grind greets Grella on gridiron

In Washington today, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, one of President Bush's chief congressional defenders on Iraq, will issue a formal counterpunch to Ted Kennedy's critique during a 3:30 p.m. EDT speech at the Heritage Foundation's Lehrmann Auditorium. (Kennedy stands by criticism, Bush responds)

We mention the majority leader's speech as a way to announce the hands-down winner of today's best sports-political metaphor: DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella, who managed to squeeze four sports cliches into two sentences.

"The president is not just the head of our team, but the head of our nation," Grella told the Grind. "We obviously feel an obligation to keep his uniform as clean as possible, as he moves the ball down the field and puts points on the board."

Bravo, Grella!

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