SACRAMENTO, CALIF. Democrat Gray Davis will have to fight to keep his job this fall in the nation's first gubernatorial recall election in 82 years, state officials announced Wednesday after tallying the results of a Republican-led petition drive that seemed farfetched just months ago.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said counties had reported 1.3 million valid petition signatures, well over the 897,158 re-quired for the recall to make it on the ballot. An election could be held as early as Sept. 23.
"This is the first statewide special election in California's history. The challenges are profound," Shelley said at a news conference. "This could very well be one of the most important ballots our citizens ever cast."
Davis is a career politician who is less than one year removed from winning a second consecutive term, but his popularity has plunged in recent months amid California's $38 billion budget deficit, its energy crisis and its slumping economy.
He branded the Republican-led drive to oust him "a hostile takeover by the right" and said he would fight and win. "In a strange way, this has got my juices flowing," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I'm a fighter."
The widely expected announcement touched off a flurry of activity among potential Republican candidates on Wednesday. Businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November, said he would announce his plans on Saturday and state Sen. Tom McClintock formed an exploratory committee.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokesman said the actor has not decided whether he would run.
The only declared major-party candidate so far is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who bankrolled the recall drive. He planned to return from Washington today or Friday, earlier than expected, to formally enter the race, his spokesman said.
The state's Democratic officeholders have closed ranks behind Davis and say they will not run.
The ballot would have two parts: The first section would ask people to vote yes or no on whether to recall Davis and the second would provide a list of candidates to choose from in the event he is recalled.
If a majority of voters support the recall, Davis would be replaced by the candidate with the most votes, meaning a candidate in a large field could be elected governor with a relatively small percentage of the overall vote.
Recent polls have indicated that while the vote would be close, Davis would lose in a recall. The last gubernatorial recall election was in 1921, when North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier was removed from office.