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Large Crowds Keep McClintock in Race

With little more than a week left in California's recall race, Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) is trying to make his victory seem inevitable. But his more conservative Republican rival isn't going away.

State Sen. Tom McClintock (search) has stuck firmly -- some say obstinately -- to his pledge to race to the end, even at the risk of splitting the Republican vote and allowing Democrats to stay in power even if Gov. Gray Davis is recalled.

"I have never been popular in the country club wing of the Republican party," McClintock said in an interview Sunday before another full day of campaigning. "I've always drawn my strength from grassroots voters, and I'm quite content with that."

The pressure on McClintock to drop out and throw his votes to Schwarzenegger -- a political rookie whose moderate views are shared by many Democrats -- has been intense. Most high-level GOP endorsements have gone to Schwarzenegger, who has led McClintock in every poll, and Republican strategists warn that his career could suffer if he stays in.

But McClintock, a 47-year-old career politician who has earned his conservative credentials during almost 17 years in the state Legislature, refuses to bow to critics who call him the Ralph Nader (search) of the Republican Party, referring to the Green Party's 2000 presidential candidate widely asserted to have received votes that otherwise would have gone to Democrat Al Gore.

McClintock prefers to compare himself to Seabiscuit -- the scrappy California race horse who outran the establishment. He said he believes millions of voters will embrace his anti-tax, anti-abortion, pro-gun philosophy.

"I believe in the final days of the campaign we'll see a lot of voters who prefer me but doubt I can win coming back in droves," McClintock said. "The crowds have been phenomenal. They say, 'Don't you dare drop out, we need someone to believe in."'

GOP strategist Allan Hoffenblum warns that McClintock has let the rush of publicity fool him into believing his chances are far better than they are.

"It's called candidate-itis, and it's a severe disease," Hoffenblum said. "What he badly misreads is how much Republicans want this win, and how Tom appears at times to be in the way."

Through wide exposure in television and radio interviews and strong performances in two major debates, McClintock has emerged as a solid third in most polls, with Schwarzenegger and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante running about even. But a Gallup poll released Sunday showed Schwarzenegger way ahead.

McClintock badly trails Davis, Schwarzenegger and Bustamante in fund-raising, but he has benefited from his growing status as a national conservative icon.

On Saturday, he was a headliner at a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a national conservative activist organization. The Colorado Springs, Colo., event netted more than $100,000 for his campaign, McClintock said.

Schwarzenegger aides have said McClintock won't distract them, but also have hinted broadly that he should exit the race. Schwarzenegger himself said last week, "I think McClintock should think about it seriously."

If Schwarzenegger loses, Hoffenblum warned that McClintock could face serious consequences among moderate GOP voters in his Ventura County state Senate district. "They're not going to want him to be their state senator, is the bottom line," he said.

McClintock shrugs off such predictions as "terrorist threats" from people who never liked him anyway.

"I've always found wisdom in the motto on Davy Crockett's pocketwatch that was found in the debris of the Alamo," McClintock said, "'Be sure you're right, and go ahead.'"