CHICAGO - California Gov. Gray Davis gained ground yesterday in his effort to keep other prominent Democrats out of the recall election - as the nation's largest labor organization greeted him with rousing support here, and state labor leaders prepared to warn other party members not to put their names on the ballot.
Union backing has been key to Davis campaigns in the past and remains central to his effort to retain his job. The unions can provide a large group of politically active members for get-out-the-vote efforts as well as money.
Davis asked the union leaders here at a national meeting of political directors from the AFL-CIO to pledge $10 million to his campaign - half of the $20 million he told them he would need to fight off the recall. Delegates greeted the governor with rousing applause, and the AFL-CIO leadership is expected to vote on the financial request today.
"Certainly we think he's the best Democratic candidate around," said Miguel Contreras, leader of the Los Angeles County labor federation.
While some prominent Democrats have talked about Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a potential candidate, union leaders have strong disagreements with her and have discouraged any talk of her candidacy.
While Davis met with labor leaders here, Democratic members of the state Senate caucused in Sacramento to discuss the recall. Some members have called for the party to back an alternative candidate to Davis, but that move received only mixed support from the 17 senators who converged on the Capitol and others who joined by conference call.
"Some feel this way, and some feel that way," said Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton, a Democrat from San Francisco. Under the rules governing the recall, voters face an up-or-down choice on whether Davis should retain his job and can then choose from among candidates running to succeed him. If Davis loses the up-or-down vote, the candidate who gets the most votes in the successor election becomes governor.
Davis' strategists argue that if any prominent Democrat becomes a candidate in the successor election, that could fatally undermine the governor's efforts to defeat the recall.
The governor's push to keep other Democrats off the ballot is expected to receive another boost today, when the California Labor Federation plans to issue a warning that it would "punish" any Democrats who break ranks and challenge Davis.
The consensus among leaders of the union group is that any Democrat "who broke ranks would never again receive a labor endorsement," said Dan Terry, president of the California Professional Firefighters union and a member of the federation's executive council.
In other developments: