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Schwarzenegger campaign rejects debate challenge from Gov. Davi

Saturday, September 27, 2003

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Gov. Gray Davis challenged Arnold Schwarzenegger to a debate "right here, right now," accusing the actor Friday of distorting his record. The Schwarzenegger campaign declined.

Davis' challenge was the most direct confrontation the governor has made during the campaign leading up to the Oct. 7 recall election and came as his campaign planned to air his first television ad attacking Schwarzenegger in the final week and a half of the campaign.

"Mr. Schwarzenegger is wrong. He is mischaracterizing the facts and running down this great state," Davis said at a rally aimed at building support among women. He accused Schwarzenegger of misrepresenting his record on such issues as taxes, health care and jobs and of misstating facts about California's problems.

Schwarzenegger will refuse the challenge, campaign spokesman Sean Walsh said.

"Our campaign has to convince the public that of the individuals who will replace Gray Davis, we have the vision, we have the discipline and we have the popular will to change California," Walsh said. "So, sorry, Gray, you are on your own, pal."

Since Wednesday's debate featuring the five leading candidates seeking Davis' job, the governor has begun to campaign hard against Schwarze-negger, increasingly shaping the unprecedented recall election, with 135 candidates, into a traditional choice between two candidates.

Schwarzenegger continued to build on the momentum of Republican support that followed his sole debate performance, winning the backing Friday of Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman who bankrolled the recall effort.

Issa's announcement appeared to have little effect on state Sen. Tom McClintock, the only other prominent Republican still in the race. Republican leaders fear Schwarzenegger and McClintock could split the GOP vote, throwing the election to Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante if Davis is recalled.

McClintock showed no sign of backing out Friday as he unveiled a new campaign ad.

"I would not be in this race if I did not believe I could win," McClintock said. "You all know a lot can happen in the final days of a campaign. I'm the one moving up and gaining very rapidly, from what I've been told."

Issa, speaking at Schwarzenegger's campaign headquarters, said the action star is the only candidate positioned to end what he called the failed policies of Davis and other Democrats.

"Without a doubt," Issa said, "only one man has been able to stand above the rest to make it clear that there will be a direction change away from the pay-to-play Bustamante-Davis way of doing business."

Although Issa never mentioned McClintock during his remarks, he released a statement that said the conservative Republican's "continued candidacy threatens to undermine the success of the recall election."

Davis' rally among women came as some questioned whether Schwarzenegger's aggressive performance during Wednesday night's debate would alienate women voters. During the debate, the action star traded one-liners and insults with independent Arianna Huffington.

Huffington said it showed a pattern of treating women badly, an allegation Schwarzenegger's aides dismissed. She told reporters after a Friday rally in Fresno that she has received thousands of e-mails from women applauding her defense against Schwarzenegger's volleys.

At his West Hollywood rally, Davis was introduced by former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who called on Davis not to let Schwarzenegger's statements go unchallenged.

"I think you're going to have to call him out," she declared.

Davis was also buoyed by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who briefly addressed the crowd by phone.

"I hope you all will vote no on the recall," she said. "Let's make it absolutely clear that California is not going to be stampeded by the same right-wingers who gave us the election in Florida."

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Associated Press Writers Anna Oberthur, Andrew Bridges, Beth Fouhy, Kim Baca and Jim Wasserman contributed to this story.


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