SAN DIEGO – Nancy Peterson glanced through the Sunday newspaper, straining to find someone amid the eclectic field of more than 150 recall candidates who could do a better job than the widely despised Gov. Gray Davis (search).
"These people here, I mean, how much do they know?" asked Peterson, 61, a hospital worker from La Mesa.
Glancing at photos of two of the hopefuls, Green Party (search) candidate Peter Camejo and political commentator Arianna Huffington (search), she asked: "An investment counselor, can he lead us? A commentator, can she lead us?"
Polls and interviews across the state indicated many voters believe Davis needs to go, but they are unsure who, if anyone, should replace him. Candidates include former child actor Gary Coleman (search), melon-smashing comedian Gallagher (search), smut peddler Larry Flynt (search) and porn star Mary Carey, along with several actual politicians and dozens of unknowns.
Dawn Cain, a 32-year-old assistant manager at The Living Room cafe in San Diego, was unsure whom she would pick but suggested it almost didn't matter who was governor as long as it wasn't Davis.
"I think we need someone different," she said. "A change couldn't hurt."
There is some hope for the governor, though.
James Myers, a Democrat from Berkeley, said he would oppose the recall even though he was no fan of a governor who "just seems to be weaselly-er than other politicians."
"I plan to vote no, with pain in my heart," said Myers, a 72-year-old retired college professor. "He's been such a rascal."
A Time/CNN poll conducted Friday found that 54 percent of California voters questioned would vote to recall Davis in the Oct. 7 election, while 35 percent would keep him in office.
Leading the pack to replace him was actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), a Republican, with 25 percent. But nearly as many voters were undecided. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) emerged as the strongest Democrat, with 15 percent. The poll interviewed 508 registered voters and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.
Sonia Boeck, a social services worker from Los Angeles County, said she would likely vote for Schwarzenegger.
"I know he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he has a lot of connections," Boeck said. "He seems like he has the energy. I don't think he could do any worse than Davis."
Voter anger has been building since the state's 2000-2001 energy crisis. Since then, Californians have witnessed the decline of the state's technology sector and a record $38 billion budget deficit, which triggered a tripling of the vehicle tax, forced college fees to rise as much as 30 percent and has threatened state employees with layoffs and pay cuts.
"The state is in financial turmoil. Somebody's got to do something. You can't just sit back," Phil Norman, a school teacher from Santa Rosa, said Sunday. "I think [the recall] is a reasonable reaction, whether or not the governor did anything wrong."
If the recall campaign succeeds, Davis would be only the nation's second governor to be recalled; the other was North Dakota's Lynn Frazier, ousted in 1921. More than 1 million people signed petitions to secure the special California election, expected to cost taxpayers $67 million.
Richard Jernigan, 59, said he doesn't want the recall election to turn into some "kind of farce." The sanitation truck driver for the City of Los Angeles said he voted for Republican Bill Simon in the last election. But even though Simon is among the replacement names in the recall, Jernigan said he wants to study the field before picking a candidate this time.
Speaking outside the Christ is the Answer Church, he said he supports the recall because voters are unsatisfied.
"If you are not happy with something you should be able to do something about it," he said.