As the Republican Party's most prominent potential candidates kept silent on whether they would join the race to topple California Gov. Gray Davis, the incumbent struggled yesterday to keep fellow Democrats from abandoning him.

There were signs that Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger would bow out of the race any day, and the other GOP favorite, Richard Riordan, was still not ready to say whether he would run, an adviser to the former Los Angeles mayor said.

Davis fears that a prominent Democrat running to replace him on the Oct. 7 recall ballot could undermine his effort to portray the election as a Republican plot to force a conservative agenda on California.

In San Francisco, Davis said one of the Democrats in Congress who have urged U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to join the race might soon "take their comments back." Feinstein, the state's most popular Democrat, has said she would campaign against the Davis recall and did not intend to run.

"She's called me up constantly, telling me I ought to do this, do that," Davis said on a visit to a shelter for battered women in Chinatown. "She's called up other colleagues and told them to support me, and I believe we will go into this election with virtual unanimity in terms of Democratic support."

He added: "The best chance for a Democrat in the governor's office lies with me, and beating the recall, and that requires a solid Democratic front."

But cracks in the facade of party unity grew wider yesterday as Rep. Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks became the third California Democrat in Congress to call on Feinstein to run. He believes "the only way to boost Democratic turnout and defeat the recall is to get a prominent Democrat on the ballot," said Mike Gatto, Sherman's district director.

Although the White House has stayed neutral in the recall campaign, first lady Laura Bush's media secretary, Noelia Rodriguez, was in Los Angeles this week helping Riordan - the White House favorite in last year's GOP gubernatorial primary - assemble a possible campaign team. Rodriguez is a longtime Riordan adviser who was his deputy mayor for communications before moving to Washington.

Mindy Tucker, a senior California adviser to the Bush re-election campaign, said Rodriguez was helping Riordan "in her personal capacity."

"Nothing else should be inferred from it," Tucker said.

State Democratic Chairman Art Torres, however, said it was no accident that a White House official was doing campaign work for a potential candidate in the Davis recall race.

"Karl Rove's fingerprints are all over this," Torres said, referring to President Bush's top political adviser.

Torres signaled that Democrats could make an issue of Riordan's age and health if he enters the race. Riordan, 73, has undergone treatment for prostate cancer.

"He's got some real weaknesses in terms of age and ability to run a state as large as California," Torres said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.