LOS ANGELES – A new statewide Field Poll released Friday shows that 58 percent of Californian voters now favor recalling Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search), a seven point increase over the last Field Poll in July.
The news sent Democrats across the state into panic and deepened disillusionment with Davis' continued demands that party donors and special interest groups stick with him in his drive to defeat the Oct. 7 recall.
"It's really, really bad for him," a top statewide Democratic strategist told Fox News. "Because he's been leaning on people all week saying polls showing him in trouble are wrong. Well, what's he going to say now when almost every newspaper in the state on Friday will carry this poll?"
The Field Poll says 58 percent of California voters support recalling Davis while 37 percent oppose the recall.
Another party strategist said it will be virtually impossible for Davis to avoid the perception that he's waging a futile fight against the recall. Now, the strategist said, congressional and state lawmakers have to prepare for a full-fledged campaign for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search).
"We're trying to stick with the original strategy of 'no' on recall and 'yes' on Bustamante, but it's harder and harder," the strategist said.
Top-ranking state and congressional Democrats on Thursday called off plans to issue a public endorsement this week of Bustamante — in part due to intense pressure from Davis to hold off to give him a chance to keep fighting the recall. The move came before word of the Field Poll leaked Thursday and spread like wildfire among Democratic ranks.
Top party strategists said Davis urged Democrats not to endorse Bustamante so early because he and his top aides feared it would send a signal that the party had abandoned the governor.
The governor has worked aggressively behind the scenes, Democratic strategists said, to raise money to defeat the Oct. 7 recall. Those fund-raising efforts would have suffered dramatically, Davis argued, by a strong show of support for Bustamante.
"Davis' numbers are very low in all the party's internal polls," one statewide Democratic strategist told Fox News. "Panic has set in all week and everyone has been trying to figure out what to do."
Several top Democratic sources told Fox News that Davis has been warned that if he does not reverse his sagging poll numbers by Labor Day, the party will have to abandon him and put virtually all of its financial and political resources squarely behind Bustamante.
"He's been given about two weeks," a Democratic strategist familiar with the situation said. "Until then, the party will stick with the same strategy. If things don't change, a different assessment will be made."
But another top Democrat told Fox News that Davis may not have that long.
"I can't see big party players holding back much longer than next week," the source said. "But the problem is that running against a sitting governor is very difficult for donors and interest groups. Nobody is comfortable with it."
Democrats say Davis has been betting that the media will pound actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), who is running for the governor's seat as a Republican, and that his image will suffer as the campaign drags on. Strategists also say Davis will appear in public as often as possible to remind Democrats that he's their leader in Sacramento and that the recall is an assault on the entire Democratic Party.
"He's going to say in very strong terms that the recall is part of a Republican attempt to achieve through recall what they haven't achieved in a regular election for years," said a Democratic member of Congress. "We are hoping that people in this state will begin to wake up and see this as a Republican grab for power."
Democratic strategists also said they decided against a public boost for Bustamante because that campaign isn't ready to step into the fray. Bustamante has kept a low profile throughout the week in an attempt to build a campaign staff and secure fund-raising commitments if Davis continues to falter.
Bustamante staff told Fox News on Thursday that the lieutenant governor will have no public events until early next week and the only scheduled media appearance is Sunday on a morning weekly talk show.
"Cruz is hunkered down like everyone else," one Democratic strategist said. "No one wants to start this campaign before they are ready."