SAN FRANCISCO – With approval ratings in the basement and a $35 billion deficit, California Gov. Gray Davis faces the biggest challenge of his political career -- staving off a recall effort on a term that isn't set to expire until 2007.
"He's been making some very unpopular decisions to do with the budget, but that's what you have to do when you're in a tough position, you make tough decisions," said Steve Magviglio, an adviser to Davis.
That's not the way San Diego-area Rep. Darrel Issa sees it.
"The governor, with the help of his staff, cooked the books," Issa said, referring to what many opponents say is Davis' failure to protect a $10 billion surplus he inherited and then squandered in his first term. Davis was re-elected last November, but his approval ratings have dropped since then to a record low 24 percent, according to an April Field Poll.
Now, Issa is emerging as a possible candidate, pledging to raise $1 million for the recall effort.
"The vast majority of this will come from business leaders who are [seeing] skyrocketing costs of doing business in California," he said.
The drive to remove Davis is gaining momentum -- 10 percent of the needed signatures are in. Petitions carried by volunteers and people paid by recall committees are being circulated.
And the recall groups are using a new political weapon -- the Internet. Rescuecalifornia.com and recallgraydavis.com are posting petitions. Downloaded, signed and submitted -- 900,000 signatures are needed to force a vote.
The recall is actually a two-step process. There's a ballot question about removing Gray Davis and just below that is a list of candidates, who for a small fee can put their name on the ballot to become the next governor. Out of that list of potentially dozens of candidates, the winner takes all.
This week, Issa may throw his hat into the ring to become the candidate. He recognizes, however, that recalling Davis is an uphill battle.
"The chances of California having a governor whose name isn't Gray Davis are still pretty small," he said.
Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich points out that while statewide recall efforts are difficult, the volatile California electorate could respond to a recognizable alternative.
"Anything could happen, if [actor Arnold] Schwarzenegger puts his name on the ballot ---remember Jessie Ventura -- it's a whole new ballgame," she said.
The recall groups admit that their goals are lofty -- three-fifths of respondents to the Field Poll said they would not sign a petition to recall Davis. Still, that leaves enough voters willing to recall Davis. Recall sponsors rate their chances at 50-50. And, they add, ending Davis' administration is 100 percent the right thing to do.
Fox News' Donald Fair contributed to this report.