LOS ANGELES – A little more than three weeks before California's recall election, Republicans remain torn between two candidates, with party leaders continuing to fret that the division could cost them a chance to take back the Golden State.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, addressing the need for party unity at Saturday's California Republican Party convention, called on the party to rally behind him as the best replacement for Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
Although his speech did not mention the name of fellow Republican and challenger Tom McClintock, Schwarzenegger made it clear he believes there isn't room enough left in the race for both of them.
"We as Republicans have a choice to make: Are we going to be united or are we going to be divided? Are we going to win in unity with our common fiscal conservative principles or let the liberals win because we are split?" Schwarzenegger asked. "I say, let us unite for victory."
With the race to replace Davis if the recall is successful shaping into a three-way battle between McClintock, Schwarzenegger and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, GOP leaders have expressed concern that a divided Republican vote will hand the election to Bustamante.
"Tom McSelfish — divided we lose," read a sign carried by one conventioneer at the LAX Marriott over the weekend.
While the Republicans remained divided, the Democratic party seemed to be coming together, calling on party members to vote against recalling Davis but to also cast their ballots for Bustamante in case the recall is successful.
Davis and Bustamante, who have never been close during the five years they have been governor and lieutenant governor, put aside their chilly relationship Saturday to appear together before delegates at a state Democratic Party meeting.
"People wanted to see us stand together, so here we are," Davis said.
The support of the "No on Recall, Yes on Bustamante" strategy was expected, with 85 percent of the more than 600 Democratic delegates voting to endorse Bustamante. But the joint appearance by Davis and Bustamante was not.
"I am not in competition with Gray Davis. I'm running against Arnold and Tom," Bustamante said in his speech to the group. "I believe that my name would be a positive option for Democrats on the second part of the ballot, and I thank you for embracing that option."
Republicans remain divided between McClintock, whose conservative principles appeal to GOP activists, and Schwarzenegger, whose more moderate stances on such issues as abortion rights and gun control are seen as more likely to attract a wider spectrum of voters. Democrats outnumber Republicans 44 percent to 35 percent among registered voters in California.
"My heart's with McClintock but my head's with Arnold. I'd rather have half a loaf than starve," said convention delegate Marvin Jones, chairman of the Republican Central Committee in San Benito County.
But rather than indicating he might step aside, McClintock has sharpened his anti-Schwarzenegger rhetoric in recent days. He attacked the actor again Saturday for refusing to debate him one-on-one, saying, "if he's not ready to debate the issues, how is he going to be able to act on them when the last vote is counted?"
And while not mentioning Schwarzenegger by name, McClintock delivered an impassioned speech to convention delegates Saturday night in which he pledged California was ready to accept the conservative values he offers.
"Great parties are built upon great principles, and they're judged by their devotion to those principles, he said. "Now is the moment to unfurl our banners and to take our message to the people."