LOS ANGELES – Democratic attempts to unite behind Gov. Gray Davis (search) in his Oct. 7 recall election unraveled further Saturday, as a congresswoman suggested that he step down if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search) becomes a candidate to replace him.
Rep. Maxine Waters (search), D-Calif., told the San Jose Mercury News that having one Democratic candidate in the Oct. 7 recall election is crucial, but "we don't know" if it should be Davis.
"We have to be careful not to get divided and allow them to take California through this fluke recall election," Waters said of Republicans. "If (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein is talked into getting onto the ballot, I hope Gray Davis would step down."
Messages left for Waters' staff members were not immediately returned Saturday.
With an Aug. 9 candidate filing deadline approaching, Davis allies insisted the party remains united behind him, but a growing trickle of party leaders were suggesting otherwise.
Three other California congressional Democrats have urged Feinstein in recent days to run to replace Davis. The senator, who has said she does not intend to be a candidate, said she was flattered but declined further comment.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (search) said she is strongly opposed to the recall, but is leaving her options open for encouraging a Democrat to run as a potential replacement.
Davis allies believe the governor would have a better chance of surviving the recall without a strong Democratic alternative on the ballot, but some party leaders think that strategy is too risky.
The two-part ballot will allow voters to vote yes or no on the recall and then choose from a list of candidates. Davis' name would not be on the list.
"The attitude I'm hearing from voters is overwhelmingly that the recall needs to be defeated because it is an attempted Republican coup," Democratic strategist Darry Sragow said. "But they say just in case, in spite of everybody's best efforts, the recall wins, I sure as heck want to keep the governor's office in Democratic hands and I as a voter need a Democrat to vote for on question two."
On Friday, Attorney General Bill Lockyer (search) stunned fellow Democrats by accusing Davis of negative campaigning and saying he will lose support from party members if he takes the same approach in the coming campaign.
"We're tired of that puke politics. Don't you dare do it again, or we're just going to help pull the plug," The Sacramento Bee quoted Lockyer as saying in comments directed toward Davis.
The field of candidates on the Democratic and Republican sides should take shape after Wednesday, when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) plans to announce his decision. He is leaning against a candidacy, and if he doesn't run former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a fellow moderate Republican, has said may enter the race.
Republican candidates include three conservatives: U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, state Sen. Tom McClintock and businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November.
Candidates have until 5 p.m. Aug. 9 to file. Counties reported 296 people taking out nominating papers so far, but none had completed the application process, the secretary of state's office said Saturday.
To get on the ballot candidates must submit 65 nominating signatures and pay a $3,500 filing fee, or submit 10,000 signatures in lieu of the filing fee. If candidates pay less than the $3,500 filing fee, they can make up the difference with signatures, worth 35 cents each.