FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante abruptly shifted strategy Sunday, moving away from his previous position that his campaign was simply a fallback in case Gov. Gray Davis is recalled.
At a rally here of 2,500 Bustamante supporters, the lieutenant governor made little mention of "No on recall."
During his 30-minute speech, Bustamante told the crowd at least five times, "I need your vote for governor" and made only one mention of Davis.
Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the shift was inevitable.
"It's an indication that he wants to be governor and he can't be governor if the recall goes down," Pitney said.
"Cruz Bustamante is on automatic transmission, the gears shift and you can't hear it, meaning he's done it smoothly and without a sudden jolt. He simply and quietly drops the 'no on recall' message," Pitney added.
The Oct. 7 ballot will contain two questions: Should the governor be recalled and who should replace him?
After the rally, Bustamante told reporters "the governor is focused on the first question and I've got to be focused on the second."
He said he did urge the crowd to vote no on the recall.
"You didn't hear it over the roar of the crowd, but at the end of the speech, I said, 'No on recall, Yes on Bustamante," the Democratic lieutenant governor said.
It was one of the few times the "no on recall" part of the equation was mentioned during the rally that started with Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno, bringing the crowd to its feet in welcoming Bustamante to the Central Valley as "our favorite son."
"The best person to represent us is Cruz Bustamante," Reyes said. "It is going to be Bustamante for governor."
Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, also warmed up the crowd before Bustamante's entrance.
"Guess who Orange County wants to be governor? Cruz Bustamante!" yelled Dunn, who is also a longtime client of Richie Ross, Bustamante's campaign adviser.
Neither Dunn nor Reyes asked the crowd to vote no the recall.
Bustamante also announced he would transfer $3.8 million received from Indian tribes and unions to a committee established to fight Proposition 54, the Oct. 7 ballot initiative that would restrict public agencies from collecting racial data.
The lieutenant governor has been criticized by Republicans and even the state Democratic Party chairman for accepting millions from Indian tribes. He skirted the $21,200 individual contribution limit by accepting multimillion-dollar donations to his 2002 campaign committee for lieutenant governor.
Because that committee was created before California's new campaign finance law took effect, it is not subject to the contribution caps imposed on newer campaign accounts. The money was then transferred into his recall committee account.
Bustamante said Sunday he would spend all money raised above the contribution cap to fight the passage of Proposition 54 by appearing in television ads, the first of which was filmed during his Fresno rally.
However, he said he would not stop accepting large contributions to his 2002 committee.
"We will do whatever the rules allow us to do," Bustamante said.
Sen. Ross Johnson, a Republican from Irvine and supporter of Republican candidate for governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to forbid Bustamante from collecting donations that exceed the limit.
Bustamante said he hopes the Proposition 54 ads will spur more donations to his recall committee so he can afford to air his own campaign ads.
While Bustamante defended the money transfer as legal and logical, analysts and critics said it was nothing more than a shell game.
"He's just trading one loophole for another," Pitney said. "In the end, he still owes his contributors just as much as he did before."
State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, who had said the tribe's donation didn't "pass the smell test," called Bustamante's latest decision "a good move."
"Returning it wouldn't have had a purpose," Torres said, acknowledging that the Proposition 54 ads would also serve Bustamante's campaign.