LOS ANGELES – With the exception of Gov. Gray Davis, most of the 135 candidates preparing for the Oct. 7 recall election have been in hiding so far, plotting their campaigns.
Davis, who was in jeopardy last year during his re-election campaign, which he ended up winning big, is following the path he took then -- traveling the state and relying on his political tenacity.
"I am the governor and I am going to continue to do the work of the people in this state," Davis said Thursday.
As voters await a more vigorous campaign from Davis' competitors, two questions emerge -- is Davis in as much trouble as it appears, and can actor Arnold Schwarzenegger avoid the pratfalls that doomed California's last sure-bet candidate for governor?
Even Democratic critics temper the handicapping of the recall with the caveat: don't count Davis out. The campaign team working for Schwarzenegger hasn't, but his surrogates never relent where Davis is concerned.
"The first part of the ballot has to do with recalling Gov. Davis, and on that issue, I think there is such abundant evidence that there's no denying failure in leadership," Schwarzenegger consultant and former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson told Fox News.
For Schwarzenegger, he's trying to combat the eerie similarity so far with former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's disastrous campaign for the GOP nomination for governor a year ago.
Riordan's run was supposed to be a can't-lose quest that would unify and revitalize the GOP and rout the unpopular Davis. But Riordan alienated conservatives, let Davis demonize him using millions of dollars worth of television ads and watched a 40-point lead turn into an 18-point defeat to conservative primary challenger Bill Simon.
As Schwarzenegger adds top advisers like Democratic investment wizard Warren Buffett, an ardent foe of White House tax policy, and tells voters that children have first dibs on the state budget, he has led some conservatives to turn to state Sen. Tom McClintock.
"I have the largest and oldest of the grassroots Republican organizations in California, the California Republican Assembly -- to endorse my candidacy," McClintock said. That's the group that launched Ronald Reagan's campaign in 1966.
Top Schwarzenegger advisers won't let him pander to conservatives, but don't want to bait them either. Riordan, who speaks with Schwarzenegger almost daily, says the actor will woo Democrats with a social conscience.
"When it comes to social issues about caring for those who have had a bad education, caring for those who don't have adequate health care, he and I care about those people," Riordan said.
The campaign has also gone out of its way to highlight the prominent role of Schwarzenegger's wife, NBC television reporter Maria Shriver, who advisers say they believe will be a magnet to professional women in both parties.
Riordan, whose wife Nancy is also his confidante, has a ready-made line to highlight Shriver's role in Schwarzenegger's new political life.
"He and I are married to very brilliant, strong women, and I think that's an indication we're willing to share power," he said.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.