LOS ANGELES – Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon (search), under considerable pressure by the party to withdraw from the recall election and endorse front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), wouldn't rule out that option on Sunday.
"I'm running hard," Simon told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked a second time if he would stay in the governor's race to the bitter end. "Where's Mr. Schwarzenegger stand on the issues? This has to be about the future."
When asked if there was a situation where he could imagine endorsing Schwarzenegger, Simon told interviewer Brian Williams (search): "I need to hear people's vision."
Simon wouldn't say if he planned to talk with White House political director Karl Rove (search) about his future in the race or if any appeals from the Bush administration might sway his decision.
Tea-leaf reading on the status of Simon's campaign and that of Republican challenger state Sen. Tom McClintock (search) has become a daily obsession throughout GOP political circles.
Simon spokesman K.B. Forbes told Fox News Simon did not mean to give the impression he would leave the race. "We're in this to stay," Forbes said early Sunday. "Nothing can change that."
Forbes added that Simon's decision to run radio ads attacking Schwarzenegger over top economic adviser Warren Buffett's assertion that California property taxes were too low proved as much.
For whatever reason, Simon steered clear of that issue on the NBC show prompting a top GOP strategist to speculate that he may have been leaving the door open for a possible withdrawal.
"He could have declared much stronger he's staying in," the strategist said. "This might be good."
Rep. David Dreier has spoken repeatedly to both campaigns about the need to be realistic about their chances of winning on Oct. 7. Dreier has said the two other candidates will only dilute support for Schwarzenegger. Dreier persuaded Rep. Darrell Issa, who bankrolled much of the recall effort, to drop out of the race after Schwarzenegger announced he would run.
In the latest Field Poll, Simon registered 8 percent and McClintock 9 percent. Schwarzenegger led the GOP field with 22 percent, trailing only Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's 25 percent. GOP strategists, however, said the biggest number in the poll was the cumulative support for the best-known Republican candidate.
Together, Schwarzenegger, Simon, McClintock and businessman Peter Ueberroth (search) garnered 44 percent.
"That's the key," another GOP party strategist said. "The party has the majority and has a chance to win. We just need to unite behind the best candidate and that's Arnold. Simon and McClintock can't grow much and their support and endorsement could really help Arnold."
The Schwarzenegger campaign has also encouraged the other party candidates to consider dropping out. "Without a doubt, with one Democratic candidate and multiple Republican candidates it's obvious that there is a factor that could diminish Republican votes for the front-runner but there's not a factor diminishing the Democratic votes," Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman told Fox News.
Ueberroth's campaign says the former head of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics will not withdraw from the race under any circumstances. McClintock's campaign has also said the senator is in the race to stay.