SACRAMENTO, CALIF. State officials Thursday set an Oct. 7 date for the election to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, giving him less than three months to fight for his political life.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante announced the date a day after state officials certified that the Republican-led drive to recall Davis had collected more than enough signatures to make it onto the ballot.
It will be the nation's first gubernatorial recall election in 82 years.
Candidates seeking to replace Davis must now scramble to start their campaigns and declare their candidacies by Aug. 9 -- 59 days before the election. Bustamante, himself a Democrat, selected the latest possible date allowed by California law for the unprecedented recall election.
By Thursday, just one GOP candidate -- Rep. Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the recall signature-gathering effort with $1.7 million of his own money -- was definitely in the running. Several others were weighing a decision; a new name that emerged Thursday was former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.
The state's Democratic officeholders have closed ranks behind Davis and say they will not run. Davis has branded the Republican-led drive to oust him "a hostile takeover by the right," and allies have said they expected to spend $15 million to $20 million to campaign against the recall.
The recall effort has set the stage for a bruising political battle.
"Up until today it was a referendum on Gray Davis," state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland said. "Now it's a comparison between Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat progressive, against a Republican bum."
Recall supporters say they are planning a "very aggressive campaign" with a $15 million budget. "We know the job's only half done and we have a lot of work to do," said Dave Gilliard, director of Rescue California Recall Gray Davis.
Davis, who is less than a year into his second term, has seen his approval ratings drop into the 20s amid a slump in the economy and a staggering deficit projected at more than $38 billion. He has been accused of spending recklessly during the 1990s and dithering during the state's electricity crisis two years ago.
Davis said he was focused not on would-be successors, but on making the case to voters that he should stay in office.
"I'm not running against anyone else. The election is whether or not to retain Gov. Davis. That's the election and I'm going to just focus on the arguments for retaining me and the arguments against change," he told reporters after an event at the Los Angeles County sheriff's headquarters. "It's a very risky business to change governors in one day."