SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The feud between Gov. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger escalated Monday as the governor's campaign accused the actor's handlers of engaging in "dirty tricks" by plotting to disrupt a Davis event.
Davis spokesman Peter Ragone said the campaign had obtained an e-mail showing that the Schwarzenegger camp was trying to stack one of the governor's town-hall meetings "with shills for their campaign, Republicans who would disrupt and attack the governor."
"We find that deeply troubling and deeply disrespectful to the process," Ragone said, terming the tactic "dirty tricks."
Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh said the campaign had no role in any effort to disrupt the Davis town-hall meeting being broadcast Monday on Univision, a Spanish-language television network. He said the campaign obtained four seats for allies who would observe the event and offer a response afterward but they would not disrupt the meeting or ask the governor any questions.
"Our response is it sounds like the wheels are flying off the car of the Davis campaign, and if this is a town hall open to the public, why shouldn't voters if they're Republican voters go hear what the governor has to say," Walsh said.
Although more than 100 candidates are running in the historic recall election next Tuesday, Davis and Schwarzenegger have been casting the final days of the campaign as a two-man race, trading several barbs.
Schwarzenegger struck first by launching a negative ad a week ago and Davis responded with his own attack ad and a challenge to Schwarzenegger to debate him. The former bodybuilder has rejected the debate request and forecast "hand-to-hand" combat in the final days of the chaotic race.
Davis renewed his debate dare on Monday as he campaigned at a public health clinic with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- the latest in a series of campaign appearances with prominent out-of-state Democrats.
"I don't know what Mr. Schwarzenegger is afraid of," Davis said Monday. "I mean, I never participated in a Mr. Universe contest. I weigh maybe 165 pounds on a good day. I'm ready to go to him toe-to-toe but he seems to be the one on the run."
Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said there would be no debate, adding the candidate had turned down broadcaster Larry King's offer to meet Davis on CNN.
"We've declined. We have our final week of the campaign schedule locked in," Stutzman said. "Gray Davis didn't want to debate Arnold Schwarzenegger until Gray Davis realized he was dead in the water."
As long as Schwarzenegger refuses to debate, Davis said he will correct the actor's misstatements on a daily basis until the election.
He was asked by one person if that indicated Davis, who has long been known for directing attack ads at political opponents, had abandoned a recently adopted "kinder, gentler" approach to politics.
"What are you talking about?" Davis quipped as he embraced Richardson. "I'm cuddling. And I'm doing my best to be kind and gentle."