SACRAMENTO, CALIF. More than 130 Californians took the once-in-a-lifetime shot to run for governor Saturday in the state's recall election as Democrats successfully whittled their own field to one major backup candidate in case Gov. Gray Davis is ousted.
Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, under pressure from fellow party members, dropped out two hours before the filing deadline, leaving Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the only prominent Democrat on the ballot. That raised party officials' hopes of hanging onto the governor's office if the unpopular Davis was voted out Oct. 7.
If voters turn the governor out of office, Bustamante will compete against a field that includes last year's gubernatorial runner-up, Bill Simon; actor Arnold Schwarzenegger; former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth -- all Republicans -- and columnist Arianna Huffington, an independent.
The field also includes former child actor Gary Coleman, comedian Gallagher, porn czar Larry Flynt and Angelyne, a buxom artist whose likeness appears on billboards around Los Angeles.
Despite the onslaught of wannabes aiming to run the nation's most populous state, Davis remained confident Saturday.
"Many people are trying to become the governor. I am the governor," Davis said to laughter after a bill signing at a health clinic in Santa Monica. "Whether the people of the state want me to stay 60 days or three-and-a-half years -- as hopefully they will eventually decide -- I am going to do my level best to improve their lives every day I have."
A new Time-CNN poll released Saturday, however, showed voters leaning toward recalling Davis.
Fifty-four percent said they would vote Davis out, while 35 percent were opposed. Of the better-known candidates, 25 percent chose Schwarzenegger, 15 percent chose Bustamante, while others were in single digits. The poll of 508 voters was conducted Friday and had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Voter anger with Davis has been building since the state's 2000-2001 energy crisis. Since then, Californians have witnessed the decline of the state's technology sector and a record $38 billion budget deficit, which triggered a tripling of the vehicle tax, forced college fees to rise as much as 30 percent and has threatened state employees with layoffs and pay cuts.
If the campaign against him succeeds, Davis would be only the nation's second governor to be recalled. In 1921, North Dakota voters ousted Gov. Lynn Frazier as banks were failing, crop prices were plummeting, and Frazier was mired in allegations of promoting socialism.