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What Gray Davis has to do to survive recall

California's governor will likely have to define who he is rather than attack his GOP foes for what they aren't.

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In political circles, it was hailed as a tactical masterstroke.

With his popularity already sliding before last year's election, California Gov. Gray Davis - a Democrat - made the bold and unprecedented move of meddling in the Republican primary. By targeting moderate Richard Riordan with a $9 million ad campaign, Governor Davis helped propel conservative Bill Simon to an unlikely victory - and into an election Davis won without much effort.

It was at once an exhibition of the governor's greatest weakness and strength: Unable to lean upon a powerful personality, he outflanked the opposition as a Patton of political strategy. Now facing a recall, this tactical acumen remains Davis's clearest advantage. But this time, the best strategy is anything but clear.

To many Democratic consultants, the recall's peculiarities require Davis to run a more positive campaign. To others, the situation demands the exact opposite. It is indicative of the uncertainty that has permeated every level of political process here, as Davis and others are forced to devise a strategy for an election more akin to a Bulgarian parliamentary run off than anything Americans have ever seen.

"Nobody has been faced with this before," says Harvey Englander, a Democratic consultant with the MWW Group in Los Angeles.

As a result, no one is quite sure how to approach it. There will be no primary and no runoff. Anyone with $3,500 and 65 signatures can enter, and if Davis is recalled, whoever gets the most votes wins. Recent reports suggest that more than 200 Californians have taken out papers to run, and as many as a half-dozen major Republicans could enter the race.

Searching for the right strategy

So far, the Democrats have remained united behind a plan to stay above the fray: If no prominent Democrat enters the race, then the recall will be a stark choice between Democrat Davis and everyone else.


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