Recall Ballot List Nearly Finished

The final shape and size of the California recall ballot is scheduled to be announced Wednesday night, and the list of candidates trying to unseat Gov. Gray Davis (search) is shrinking as elections officials throw out improperly filed applications.

A total of 131 people had their candidacy papers for the Oct. 7 recall election completed for certification as of Wednesday morning, according to the secretary of state's office. Another 76 would-be governors had been disqualified for filing incomplete paperwork, while the remaining 40 were still under review.

Forty-eight completed applications came from Democrats, 41 from Republicans and 31 from independents. There also were four Green Party (search) members, three Libertarians, two Natural Law Party (search) members and one each from the American Independent and Peace and Freedom parties.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (search) said he expects the process to be completed by Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, President Bush was preparing for a two-day fund-raising swing through the state. Bush and his top advisers profess to be little more than curious onlookers to the recall drama, but the president's scheduled trip Thursday has intensified accusations by Democrats that the White House has had a hand in orchestrating the campaign to recall Davis, a Democrat.

As a result, Bush will likely do all he can to avoid getting drawn into the fray during his upcoming visit to the state.

As recently as three weeks ago, the consensus among the Bush political team — including powerful adviser Karl Rove — was that the president's own prospects in California would be better served if the unpopular Davis remained in office during the 2004 presidential campaign.

But with the overwhelming interest generated by Arnold Schwarzenegger (search)'s entry in the recall race, the Bush political team is divided. Some hope Schwarzenegger will lead a Republican rebound in California that will improve Bush's chances for re-election.

While Schwarzenegger laid low Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that he had quietly shuffled his campaign staff, less than a week after announcing his candidacy.

Bob White, a longtime chief of staff for former California Gov. Pete Wilson (search), has taken over the top position previously held by political strategist George Gorton, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources close to the campaign.

Gorton, another former Wilson aide, will play a more limited role, the newspaper said. Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Sean Walsh downplayed the staff moves, telling the Times that interpreting it as a demotion for Gorton would be "patently not true."

Davis appeared at a Los Angeles gas station Tuesday, reminding voters of his request that the Environmental Protection Agency (search) lift a requirement that California add ethanol to its gasoline, which he blamed for rising gas prices.

Although past races have earned Davis a reputation as an aggressive campaigner, advisers say he'll fight the recall election with a strategy based on trying to fly above the swirling circus. Advisers said he must also show voters the Republican-led recall will not solve California's problems.

On Tuesday, Ralph Nader, the Green Party presidential candidate widely blamed for spoiling the Democrats' hopes against Bush in 2000, endorsed fellow party member Peter Camejo (search) — and in a bizarre turn, was pied in the face by an assailant who got away. Camejo wasn't pied, but he had to counter arguments that he would play a similar spoiler role on Oct. 7, handing the governorship to the Republicans.

Camejo said he plans to campaign with Arianna Huffington, a political commentator who also appeals to liberal and independent voters. The two will form a political partnership in which "we work hard to get our message out and near the end, if the Green Party agrees to make a shift and support Arianna, we'll do that," Camejo said.

On the Republican side, Bush and his team have publicly stuck carefully to a unified message: that the recall is a matter for California voters to decide. Beyond that, his advisers have done nothing to suggest that Rove's fingerprints can be found anywhere near California, and most would not even speak about it on the record.

Democrats scoff at the idea that neither Bush nor Rove have had a hand in all this.

"I have believed from Day One that the White House is involved," said longtime Davis adviser Garry South. "No one can convince me that if Karl Rove did not want it to happen that he couldn't call off the dogs."

South and other Democrats blame the White House for Rep. Darrell Issa (search)'s surprise decision to drop out after spending more than $1.7 million of his personal fortune gathering signatures to make the recall happen.

In fact, while White House officials denied any efforts to remove Issa, some Bush supporters outside the White House quietly urged Issa to make room for Schwarzenegger to get in, senior Republicans said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Bush's California schedule includes two fund-raisers for his own re-election effort, plus an appearance with military families at Miramar Air Station in San Diego on Thursday and a tour of the Santa Monica Mountains Friday.

Bush, who said Schwarzenegger would make a "good governor" after the movie star entered the crowded field last week, has no plans to appear with any of the Republicans vying to replace Davis. Other top GOP contenders include former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, state Sen. Tom McClintock, and Bill Simon, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost narrowly to Davis last November.