Davis renews debate challenge
Schwarzenegger snags key GOP endorsement
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- With the latest poll numbers showing his chances of political survival fading, Gov. Gray Davis renewed his debate challenge to Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday, saying the action film star "seems to be the one on the run."
Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger, who has rebuffed Davis' attempts to goad him into a debate, picked up the endorsement of the board of directors of the state Republican Party, putting even more pressure on GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock to exit the race.
"We are proud to have two extremely competent Republicans on the ballot," said Duf Sundheim, the state party's chairman. "But only one candidate can win. And that's why it's in the best interest of all of us to get behind one candidate."
"Tom needs to make the decision that he thinks is in the best interest of the Republican Party."
McClintock has said repeatedly that he will stay in the race.
The board's endorsement means that the full resources of the state party will now be used on Schwarzenegger's behalf, as though he had won the nomination in a primary, Sundheim said.
Davis kept the pressure on Schwarzenegger to debate him.
"I don't know what Mr. Schwarzenegger is afraid of," Davis said at an appearance with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. "I mean, I never participated in the Mr. Universe contest. I weigh maybe 165 pounds on a good day. I'm ready to go with him toe-to-toe."
The embattled governor also cast doubt on Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's chances of beating Schwarzenegger in next Tuesday's recall election, telling reporters that either he or Schwarzenegger "is likely to be the next governor."
Dave Cox, the Republican leader in the state Assembly, the lower house of the Legislature, also came out for Schwarzenegger Monday, calling him the "only candidate for governor who can defeat the Davis-Bustamante machine."
Results of a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday showed that 63 percent of probable voters would vote yes on recalling Davis, compared to just 35 percent who would vote to retain him as the state's chief executive.
In the race to choose a replacement should Davis be recalled, Schwarzenegger led with 40 percent of probable voters, compared to 25 percent for Bustamante and 18 percent for McClintock. No other candidate was in double digits.
Asked for his reaction to those bleak numbers, Davis said, "There are lots of polls out there, and let's just wait until next Tuesday and see what the real poll says." He also said his campaign's internal polls put support for the recall at just 50 or 51 percent.
"We think the recall issue is closing, and we expect ... that the recall will fail," he said.
Davis, a Vietnam veteran, also bristled a bit when asked about Schwarzenegger's characterization of the recall race as a "war" during a campaign appearance Sunday.
"I was in a real war, not a movie war," he said.
Davis visited a health clinic in Venice with Richardson, the nation's only Latino governor and the latest national Democratic party luminary to travel to the Golden State to campaign against the recall.
"There's a Republican effort nationally to try to go after elections that have not been won at the polls," Richardson said. "Nationally, the Democratic Party is solidly behind Gov. Davis against the recall. And this is why you're seeing the national Democrats here."
While Davis and other Democrats have been arguing that the recall is part of a GOP strategy to overturn elections that don't go their way, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed that two-thirds of probable voters, and nearly four in 10 probable Democratic voters, reject that argument.
In a shift of strategy late last week, Davis sought to cast the recall race as a battle between him and Schwarzenegger by challenging him to a face-to-face debate. The governor charged that Schwarzenegger was trying to mislead voters by distorting Davis' record and exaggerating the state's problems.
Schwarzenegger has dismissed the challenge as a sign of Davis' increasing desperation.
Monday, Davis took issue with a statement Schwarzenegger made in a debate last week that two-thirds of poor children eligible for a state health insurance program had not been enrolled.
Davis called Schwarzenegger's comment "dead wrong," saying nearly 60 percent of eligible children are enrolled in the Healthy Families plan. The number of children in the program has increased more than ten-fold during his five years in office, Davis said.
"I am tired of Mr. Schwarzenegger putting this state down in order to build himself up," he said. "No state in America has enrolled more children than we have in the last five years. ... Once again, Arnold is wrong. He has his facts wrong again, or he just doesn't care to get his facts right."
Davis vowed to continue to challenge what he termed Schwarzenegger's "misstatements" in the remaining week of the campaign.
"We're going to have a long-range debate if we can't have a real live debate," he said.