At some point or another in their careers, just about every governor in the union faces some sort of recall effort. Generally underfunded, usually backed by some unhinged political fringe, these crusades tend to go nowhere real fast.
Out here in California, Governor Gray Davis, re-elected to his second term last November, would love to laugh off the recall that has just been launched against him. But he can’t. With the state drowning in a $35 billion deficit, with social services on the chopping block, the general malaise more than palpable and the Governor’s popularity ratings slumping into the Boris Yeltsin range, Davis and his savvy political team know that he’s in a potential world of trouble.
Not to say the current recall isn’t pretty fringy. And it has the distinct smell of sour grapes about it. The California State Republican Party failed to win a single statewide office in last fall’s election. The GOP candidate who challenged Davis, wealthy businessman and political neophyte Bill Simon Jr., ran what many considered to be one of the worst campaigns in recent history. And yet, in the past few weeks an organized campaign to recall Davis has surfaced and–surprise! surprise!–it’s being spearheaded by a former Republican state legislator and by the outgoing chair of the state GOP, Shawn Steel. “The Republicans couldn’t win in the real election last fall,” says one LA Democratic activist. “So it looks like they want to try again.”
For the recall to make the ballot, its backers need to gather about a million signatures–hardly an impossible task in a state of more than 30 million. And made even more possible by the general distaste for Gray Davis.
Even a majority of core Democratic voters rated Davis as unpopular on the eve of last November’s vote. They view him as a cold and calculating, even ruthless, politician, a virtuoso fundraiser totally beholden to special interests and unresponsive to key Democratic constituencies. Even some powerful unions, like the almighty California Federation of Teachers, has been seen sniffing around the recall. The Republicans somehow see the Governor as the incarnation of V.I. Lenin (go figure). The bottom line: Almost everybody hates Gray Davis.
That explains why in last fall’s election, even though he was fueled by the biggest campaign chest in state history, and he was faced by the most inept of rivals, Davis managed to squeak out his victory by an anemic five points. (When first elected in 1998, Davis danced to a nineteen-point margin of victory).