California Supreme Court Declines to Halt Recall Election

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The California Supreme Court (search) declined Friday to halt the recall vote of Gov. Gray Davis (search).

The move came two days after the state's top election official announced that opponents had gathered enough signatures to call a special election, and a day after Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) set the Oct. 7 election date.

The high court's action, for the moment at least, leaves the recall date intact despite allegations that signatures on recall petitions were improperly gathered. Still, the allegations will be heard in a Los Angeles court Aug. 8 and the outcome could come back to the state Supreme Court.

The Republican-dominated court was responding to an emergency petition by pro-Davis forces. They charged that the 900,000 signatures of registered voters required to force an election were obtained fraudulently.

The court did not rule on the merits of the charges. Instead, the court declined to intervene in what is expected to be fierce litigation in Los Angeles.

The Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall (search) group, in their petition to the justices, alleged that many of the thousands of paid signature gatherers -- receiving up to $1 for every signature of a registered voter they gathered -- were themselves not registered voters or California residents.

State law, amended in 2001, demands that signature gatherers for recall elections be registered voters and California residents.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, bankrolled the recall drive with $1.7 million of his own money and has declared his intention to put his name on the ballot. Issa and other Republican forces have been highly critical of Davis as being responsible for steering California into a $38 billion deficit.

Friday's legal action, for now, leaves unscathed the first recall election against a sitting California governor. Two days earlier, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced that Davis opponents had gathered enough signatures of registered voters to force an election.

Candidates hoping to replace Davis if he is recalled have only until Aug. 9 to get into the race, and intense jockeying is already under way over who could end up leading the nation's most populous state.

Under California law, candidates to replace the subject of a recall must file their papers 59 days before the vote.

Though Issa is the only declared major-party candidate so far, other potential Republican contenders include actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, last year's failed GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks.

Still another Republican possibility emerged : Jack Kemp, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996 and a former New York congressman.

The state's Democratic officeholders have closed ranks behind Davis and say they will not run, and state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland said the party can now focus on the Republican candidates.

The campaign promises to be short, expensive and fierce.

"You're talking about a total free-for-all, an election where anything can happen, not a lot of time for strategic planning," said Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow. "It's a situation in which it's very difficult to choose a strategy because you're not talking about two candidates going head to head and someone's got to get a majority."

The nation's last gubernatorial recall election was in 1921, when North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier was removed from office.