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:
Davis' attorneys went to the state Supreme Court to try to ask that the recall be postponed until March and consolidated with the 2004 presidential primary. Outside the court in San Francisco, the attorneys said the recall procedures were unfair and a violation of one-person-one-vote principles because Davis could gain 49 percent of the vote in the up-or-down election and lose, while his potential successor could be elected with "10 percent of the vote" in a crowded field.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has flirted with opposing the governor, donated $50,000 to the campaign to remove Davis from office.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, provided support for Davis. "I oppose the recall," Clinton said in an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "I think, based on everything that I've heard, and what my colleagues in California tell me, it would be really bad for the state economically and politically."
In Northern California, a former software engineer started a Web site to persuade as many people as possible to run for governor. His theory: the more candidates gumming up the ballot, the greater the chance that the October election would have to be delayed or halted.
In Beverly Hills, Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, held a news conference to announce his candidacy, saying he would expand gambling to raise more tax revenue and would be "Davis' and the California Republican Party's worst nightmare" if he were elected.
In Chicago, however, the agenda was political seriousness as Davis made an urgent appeal for support for a huge campaign to save his job.
He is scheduled to meet this morning with the AFL-CIO executive council, the governing body of the national labor group, before returning to California.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.