LOS ANGELES – Gov. Gray Davis appeared before an exuberant crowd of Democratic Party loyalists Saturday and warned his Republican foes that "you are in for the fight of your life."
"You might think it's fun to castigate the governor, guys," Davis declared at the state Democratic Convention. "But you can't govern the fifth-largest economy of the world with warmed-over platitudes."
Davis' popularity is lagging as he faces re-election in November, and his remarks aimed to energize more than 1,000 delegates and guests at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles.
While some expressed reservations about his leadership and re-election chances, many said they backed him wholeheartedly.
"We will come away from here jazzed about Governor Gray Davis," said delegate John R. Smith, 49, of Fremont.
The gathering drew California activists and a parade of potential 2004 presidential candidates, including Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina and Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate majority leader.
Each delivered campaign-style speeches attacking Republican President Bush's domestic policies. The visit to California, with its wealth of electoral votes, was key to national Democrats' efforts to counter Bush's popularity in races this year and 2004.
"Since we met last year, there is even greater urgency to return Gray Davis and his team to Sacramento for a second term," said Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Davis is among those viewed as a possible Democratic opponent to Bush in 2004. The governor didn't rule that out, but told reporters, "I have no plans but to work as hard as I can to be re-elected."
Secretary of State Bill Jones, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Bill Simon are vying for the Republican nomination in the March 5 primary.
The winner will take on an incumbent governor whose once-solid popularity has slipped in the face of an energy crisis and a $12.5 billion budget deficit. But Davis remains a seasoned lawmaker with more than $30 million in his campaign treasury.
Already Davis has unleashed more than $4 million in attack ads against Riordan, the front-runner. But he said Saturday that he has been unable to tout his successes and fight off Republican attacks during the past year because he has been focused on solving the energy crisis.
Now, Davis said, "We are campaigning, we are telling people the good things we've done."
Republican Party operatives and aides to Riordan and Jones lurked in the hallways, passing out campaign literature bashing Davis' fund-raising practices. State GOP spokesman Rob Stutzman said Davis mishandled the power crisis and dismissed the convention as "a monument to failure."
But mostly enthusiasm for the governor reigned.
Davis' camp handed out placards and canvas bags sporting a new slogan: "Effectiveness You Can Count On." And the governor made a splashy entrance as a video played featuring Californians describing how Davis' programs have helped them.
Davis then waded to the stage through a sea of supporters in a raucous moment reminiscent of a national party convention in a presidential election year.