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Davis challenges Schwarzenegger to debate

Issa endorses actor-turned-politician

Gov. Gray Davis challenged GOP front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger to a debate.
Gov. Gray Davis challenged GOP front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger to a debate.

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Verbal sparring was the order of the night as California recall candidates debate the issues.
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California Recall
Cruz Bustamante
Darrell Issa

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Charging that Arnold Schwarzenegger is misleading voters in the recall campaign, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on Friday challenged the actor-turned-politician to a debate.

"Mr. Schwarzenegger is wrong. He is mischaracterizing the facts and running down this great state. And that is not fair to 35 million Californians," Davis said, during a campaign appearance with former Texas Gov. Ann Richards in Hollywood.

"I'm not going to take it anymore, and right here, right now, I challenge him to a debate. We have got to set the record straight."

The Schwarzenegger campaign quickly rejected the challenge. Schwarzenegger has also refused to participate in several forums with his recall rivals, appearing in one debate so far.

"It's official. The Gray Davis death spiral has commenced," said spokesman Rob Stutzman. "He'd be better served to debate some of the 1.6 million Californians who signed petitions to recall him."

Davis' challenges comes as Schwarzenegger picks up key GOP endorsements for the October 7 recall election.

Rep. Darrell Issa, who financed the recall initiative, endorsed Schwarzenegger with his "whole-hearted support" Friday, appearing with the candidate at his campaign headquarters in Santa Monica.

"Without a doubt, only one man has been able to stand out above the rest, to make it clear that there will be a direction change away from the pay-to-play Bustamante-Davis way of doing business, " Issa said. "There is only one candidate left standing to make that change in direction for California."

On Thursday County GOP chairmen from across the state agreed to endorse the actor-turned-politician, as did one of the Republican candidates who dropped out of the campaign, Bill Simon.

At Friday's event with Issa, Rep. David Drier, who has been advising Schwarzenegger during the recall campaign, handed him a letter of support signed by 15 of the 20 GOP members in the state's congressional delegation.

Drier said that since Wednesday's debate, "unity is building and the momentum is moving towards Arnold."

But Schwarzenegger's last remaining major GOP rival, conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock, remained defiant, saying he will not drop out of the race.

"I made a promise to people when I entered this race that I would be in it to the finish line, and I keep my promises," he said in an interview with CNN's John King on Thursday. "When I make a promise, I stand by that promise. I'm in this race to the finish line."

McClintock also insisted he has the momentum to win the election, now just 12 days away.

"Our message is clearly resonating across California," he said. "I began this campaign as an asterisk behind Peter Camejo of the Green Party. I've moved into a solid position now, according to the recent L.A. Times poll, while the other candidates have been dead in the water."

Thanks, but no thanks: Schwarzenegger declined Davis' debate challenge.
Thanks, but no thanks: Schwarzenegger declined Davis' debate challenge.

A number of Republicans have been pressuring McClintock to get out, fearing that a division in the GOP vote will allow Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to squeak through to victory.

In thanking Issa on Friday, Schwarzenegger appeared to take a subtle swipe at McClintock.

"[Issa] wants the Republican Party of California to unite, to be behind one candidate because he knows what is important. What is important is not to think about ourselves but to think about the party, to think about the state, to think about the people. And that's what Darrell has done," he said.

Bustamante is the only major Democrat in the race, and California has nearly 1.4 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. However, nearly 3.1 million independents hold the balance of power between the two parties.

The latest poll in the recall race, by the Public Policy Institute of California, showed Bustamante with support from 28 percent of likely voters, Schwarzenegger with 26 percent and McClintock with 14 percent. With a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points, Bustamante and Schwarzenegger were locked in a statistical tie.

Sen. Tom McClintock says he will not drop out of the race.
Sen. Tom McClintock says he will not drop out of the race.

Simon, a conservative businessman who was the GOP nominee last year against Gov. Gray Davis, appeared with Schwarzenegger at a news conference Thursday afternoon to offer his support. He had dropped out of the recall race earlier in the campaign without offering an endorsement.

"I think it's now time to get behind one candidate for governor, and I believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger has the best chance to be the next governor of California," Simon said.

During the campaign, Simon -- ideologically much closer to McClintock -- had run ads highly critical of Schwarzenegger on taxes and other issues. But Thursday, he said that Schwarzenegger had "clarified those views to my great satisfaction about taxes and how he felt about taxes."

"We're not always going to agree on every issue, that's for sure, but we certainly agree on what I believe are the most important issues facing our great state, and those are economic issues," Simon said.

Rep. Darrell Issa throws his support behind Schwarzenegger.
Rep. Darrell Issa throws his support behind Schwarzenegger.

Issa, a multi-millionaire Republican congressman from San Diego County, poured more than $1 million of his own fortune into the recall initiative and planned to run for governor himself. But he decided not to run after Schwarzenegger entered the race.

Tuesday, Issa had urged one of the two Republicans in the race to drop out to prevent a Bustamante victory, even suggesting that it would be better not to recall Davis than to let that happen.

Another departed Republican candidate, Peter Ueberroth, will meet again with Schwarzenegger and McClintock over the weekend and could offer an endorsement early next week, sources close to him said.

Though both Simon and Ueberroth have stopped campaigning, their names will still appear on the recall ballot.

In Sacramento Thursday, the California Republican County Chairmen's Association decided to endorse Schwarzenegger by a vote of 40 to 9, with five abstentions.

"We are attempting to break the logjam among Republican candidates for governor," said Jim Hartman, the group's vice chairman.

Schwarzenegger's aides told CNN's John Mercurio Thursday that they believed Davis' interest in a debate indicated that Davis' poll numbers are sinking, but they said they'd wait for a formal challenge before responding further.

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