Huffington withdraws from recall race
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- With her campaign support mired in the low single digits, independent candidate Arianna Huffington announced Tuesday evening that she is pulling out of the California gubernatorial recall race and will work to defeat it.
"I'm pulling out and I'm going to concentrate every ounce of time and energy for the next week fighting to defeat the recall because I realize that that's the only way now to defeat [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Arnold Schwarzenegger," the 53-year-old writer and media commentator said on CNN's "Larry King Live."
"I was against the recall in principle. I've always believed this is not the way to run a democracy. But I also saw the opportunity provided to elect with a simple plurality an independent progressive governor."
While she drew only 2 percent support in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, Huffington's backing had been largely from liberal voters who could be crucial to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' survival.
Huffington stopped short of endorsing any of her rivals in the gubernatorial replacement race, saying she would urge her supporters to vote "strategically, but to make their decision just before the election."
"I want people to vote their conscience, but make sure that whatever their vote is, it does not put Schwarzenegger in the statehouse," she told King.
Huffington held out the possibility that she might endorse Schwarzenegger's nearest competitor, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, before next Tuesday's vote.
Told of Huffington's withdrawal during a campaign event in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger, who sparred repeatedly with her in a debate last week, said, "That's too bad."
"She brought color and excitement to the race. I wish her good luck," he said.
In her interview with King, Huffington charged that Schwarzenegger was a captive of a group of advisers allied with former Gov. Pete Wilson who are "using Schwarzenegger to get back in control of the state."
"Arnold Schwarzenegger is a charming man. He's a nice man. But really, he has no idea how to run a state, and he's going to be run by the very forces that basically have destroyed so much of California," she said.
"He entered the race saying he's going to be an independent and surrounded himself with Pete Wilson operatives. He entered the race saying he's going to take no special interest money and has taken millions from developers, from agribusiness."
Huffington said she has a sense of "deja vu" from the 2000 presidential election, during which President Bush called himself a compassionate conservative.
"And then we woke up with the nightmare of a warmonger who took a $500 billion surplus and turned it into a $500 billion deficit, [with] millions of jobs lost," she said. "If we elect Schwarzenegger, we are going to wake up to the same nightmare."
Earlier Tuesday, Davis said Huffington had brought "wisdom and clarity" to the recall race when asked about her pending announcement.
"I believe she's made a contribution to the dialogue that has begun over these last 70 to 75 days," he said. "... I would welcome her comments between now and the end of the campaign."
Huffington's rethinking of her candidacy came as Schwarzenegger opened up a 15-point lead in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. She had been highly critical of the actor-turned-politician, sparring with him repeatedly during a debate last week.
"The last thing the state needs is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger," she said.
With just a week to go before the recall election that could bring a premature end to his governorship, Davis rallied with union supporters alongside Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As he has in recent days, Davis cast the race as a two-way battle between him and Schwarzenegger.
'Now is not the time to pass the baton'
"It boils down to whether or not you want to have a Republican, who takes a different view of this race, be governor, or whether you want to retain a governor who has fought for the last 30 years to advance the interests of working people," he said.
"Now is not the time to pass the baton to someone who thinks the best answer to questions is to provide some of the one-liners from his old movies. Life, and government, does not always go according to a script."
Next Tuesday, voters will first be asked whether to recall Davis. Then, they will move to a list of 135 candidates to choose a replacement who will take over if the recall succeeds.
On Wednesday, in a bit of political timing not likely to help the governor, an increase in a state tax on vehicles will go into effect, tripling the fee for many California drivers. The unpopular increase was part of Davis' plan to try to close the state's budget deficit, but the public anger it provoked helped fuel the recall drive against him.
Also on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times will release results of a new poll on the recall race, and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark will campaign with Davis.