Ueberroth Faces Uphill Battle in Recall Race

Peter Ueberroth (search) appears to be the longest of long shots in California's run for governor.

The latest Field Poll shows him with only 5 percent, the lowest of the four best-known Republican candidates and 17 points behind GOP front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger (search).

But there are other liabilities.

Ueberroth didn't sign the recall petition that led to the Oct. 7 election that could throw out Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search). His strategists say he was "ambivalent" about the recall drive (something that won't sit well with recall fans).

Ueberroth won't even criticize Davis' stewardship of the state during the campaign and he won't run any negative campaign commercials in the race.

He hasn't been actively involved as a candidate in GOP politics since he flirted with running for the U.S. Senate in the early 1990s.

Most California voters don't even remember his signal accomplishments in the state: He was chairman of the widely popular and profitable 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, head of bipartisan commissions in the 1990s formed after the L.A. riots and the Northridge earthquake, and head of a successful state competitiveness commission.

Lastly, Ueberroth will appear on the ballot as a Republican but will run as an independent, which could add to voter confusion. Ueberroth's team says the candidate, who has a well-known contempt for fund-raising, will seek big donations to underwrite the campaign. To get things started, Ueberroth has already donated $1 million of his own money.

But to hear Ueberroth's campaign managers talk, everything is just right for a stunning upset victory.

"Peter is in this race for the long haul and I know he believes he will win and I believe he will win," said chief campaign strategist Bill Butcher.

What does Ueberroth have to offer the others don't?

"He's a serious candidate for serious times," says campaign manager Dan Schnur. "Voters in this state understand this is a very serious election. Peter believes the state is in the midst of an economic downward spiral and may soon reach the point of no return. When California has had great opportunities like the Olympics or great crises like the LA riots or the Northridge earthquake, it turned to Peter and he came through."

Ueberroth has pledged to serve only one term. His team says he will arrive in Sacramento not intent on uprooting the existing system, but calling on both parties to shed their partisan instincts and rally to the state's rescue.

"Peter's not going to go up to Sacramento and tell lifelong Republicans and Democrats to stop being partisans," Shnur told Fox News. "That's not practical. But what he will say is, 'Set aside your partisanship for now, while the state is in this crisis.' Then, when the crisis is over and Peter leaves office, they can go back to being the partisans they've always been. But at least the crisis will have been solved."

Ueberroth will use unconventional means to get to the governor's office. Invisible since announcing for the race, Ueberroth's first appearance won't be until Tuesday in Los Angeles, where he will begin to outline his economic and budget principles.

He'll then travel to northern California before opening himself to lengthy on-the-record interviews with the top political and business reporters at every major newspaper in the state. The campaign is also toying with buying hour-long radio spots on major radio stations for Ueberroth to talk to voters on major issues.

Ueberroth will also host town hall meetings throughout the state (the first to be held Aug. 25 in San Diego). Each town hall meeting will open with a Ueberroth supporter dashing in carrying a replica Olympic torch to remind voters of Ueberroth's success with the '84 Olympics. The town hall meetings will be known as "Carry the Torch for Pete" events.

It sounds idyllic and even fanciful. Even Ueberroth's strategists concede this much. They also admit they've never, ever worked for a candidate in a tough race who has kept a "no negative campaign commercials" pledge.

But they swear this time is different.

"Peter is a serious candidate, with serious plans, for serious times and will attract serious voters," said Schnur, who then caught himself.

"God, I have to come up with another adjective for 'serious.'"