SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Gray Davis (search) insisted he will enter California's recall election "with virtual unanimity in Democratic support" despite recent defections from the party's stated strategy of unifying behind the embattled executive.
Davis fielded pointed questions Wednesday about three California congressional Democrats who have called on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search), considered the state's most popular politician, to put her name on the Oct. 7 recall ballot.
"I'm very proud of all the Democrats that are standing by my side and particularly Sen. Feinstein," Davis remarked. "I think it's highly unlikely there will be any prominent Democratic candidates in the race. They understand it is a Republican cabal."
Davis' latest comments came as Reps. Cal Dooley, Loretta Sanchez and Brad Sherman said Democrats need an alternative on the ballot in case Davis loses.
Their comments contradicted the strategy of party leaders, which is to keep Democrats unified behind Davis and make sure there is no credible Democratic candidate on the ballot.
Voters in the election will face two ballot questions, the first being whether to recall Davis and the second being who should replace him. If a majority support the recall, Davis would be replaced by the top vote-getter among those running to succeed him.
"If Dianne Feinstein runs on the second part, she will drive the turnout for the all-important first part," Sherman said. "First and foremost, vote no on the recall. Second, we should unite behind the most prominent Democratic candidate on the second part of the ballot."
Feinstein's office said the senator, who has said she does not intend to be a candidate, would have no comment. Candidates have until Aug. 9 to get on the ballot.
Meanwhile, attention remained focused on Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) as his advisers said the actor is leaning against running to replace Davis. George Gorton, the actor's chief political adviser, said late Wednesday that Schwarzenegger still had not made a decision and that he did not expect an announcement to come Thursday.
If Schwarzenegger doesn't run, that would open the door for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (search), who said he will seriously consider entering the race if Schwarzenegger does not.
In a related development Wednesday, President Bush refused to take sides in the recall election and said the decision is for Californians to make.
"I view it as an interested political observer would view it. We don't have recalls in Texas, thankfully," Bush, the former Texas governor, said at a White House Rose Garden news conference. "The people of California, it's their opinion that matters."
As of Tuesday, 57 people had taken out papers to replace Davis, according to figures from 16 county elections officials. None had returned them. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (search) is the only declared Republican candidate