Davis looks for Hispanic votes; Schwarzenegger gets GOP support

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) -- Gov. Gray Davis campaigned with the nation's only Hispanic governor Monday, sniping at Arnold Schwarzenegger and brushing off a poll showing he could lose his job in a week as Schwarzenegger gained more Republican support.

Davis, appearing with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in the Los Angeles area, renewed his calls for Schwarzenegger to debate him, a proposition the actor rejected.

"I don't know what Mr. Schwarzenegger is afraid of," Davis said. "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 got a rare endorsement from the state GOP's board of directors, but that did not deter the other main Republican in the race, state Sen. Tom McClintock, who jumped at the debate challenge Davis issued to Schwarzenegger.

"I accept Gray Davis' challenge to discuss the future of this state," said McClintock. "Schwarzenegger had a more pressing engagement, apparently."

The governor's campaign said it wasn't interested in debating McClintock, R-Northridge.

The state senator, who has rejected Republican calls to step down, dismissed Schwarzenegger's latest endorsement, saying the board of directors had subverted a process that should have been done in open at a party convention.

"I don't think Republican voters will accept that," he said.

The board of directors voted 17-0 to endorse Schwarzenegger's candidacy during a special meeting at the party's Burbank headquarters Monday afternoon. GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim said the announcement was the equivalent of the party recognizing Schwarzenegger as the Republican nominee for governor. Schwarzenegger was also endorsed Monday by Assembly Republican leader Dave Cox and by the California Taxpayers Association.

Davis renewed his claim that Schwarzenegger is distorting his record, particularly on health care reform.

At Santa Monica's Venice Family Clinic, which specializes in treating patients who are enrolled in the state's healthy families program, Davis said there has been a 12-fold increase in enrollment in the program since he took office in 1999.

A chart titled "Setting the Record Straight" was on an easel near the governor. It contained bar graphs stating that Schwarzenegger has said only a third of the state's eligible residents had enrolled in the program while the real number was 60 percent.

"Once again Arnold is wrong, he has his facts wrong again or he just doesn't care to get his facts right. This is yet another example why we should debate," Davis said.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said there would be no debate.

"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."

The feud between Davis and Schwarzenegger escalated 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 campaign was "trying to stack our town hall with shills for their campaign, Republicans who would disrupt and attack the governor."

Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh said the campaign had no role in any effort to disrupt the Davis town hall being broadcast on Univision, a Spanish-language television network. He said the campaign obtained four seats for allies who would observe the town hall and offer a response afterward but they would not disrupt the event or ask the governor any questions.

"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.

The accusation comes after Davis and Schwarzenegger have focused the final days of the historic recall election, which features a ballot with 135 candidates to replace the governor, into a two-man race, trading charges and airing attack ads.

Schwarzenegger fired the first volley with a negative ad a week ago and Davis responded Friday with an attack ad of his own and a challenge to Schwarzenegger to debate him. The former bodybuilder has rejected the debate request, but forecast "hand-to-hand" combat in the final days of the chaotic race.

Davis said he will correct Schwarzenegger's misstatements on a daily basis until the election.

Davis was asked if that indicated that he -- long 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."

At a town hall meeting late in the day in the Fresno suburb of Clovis, Schwarzenegger didn't mention Davis' debate challenge, or the governor's attacks against him. Instead he pledged to protect agriculture, restore local control to education and get more federal dollars for California. For the first time in several days he mentioned McClintock and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the leading Democrat in the race, criticizing them for taking tribal money "so they can't represent you any more because of conflict of interest."

Schwarzenegger makes the same charge in an ad he began airing last week that also criticizes tribes for playing money games and not paying their fair share. Two powerful Southern California tribes struck back with a new ad featuring Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro saying that Indian tribes have begun to take their legal place in a political process they've been barred from, "But as so many politicians have done before, Mr. Schwarzenegger has chosen to condemn our participation for his own political ends. We ask you to reject his untruthful attack."

Richardson reiterated earlier comments from prominent Democrats that the recall campaign is an effort by Republicans to seize power that they can't obtain legitimately.

"Nationally, the Democratic party is solidly behind Gov. Davis," he said.

The governor, a Vietnam War veteran, also got in another dig at Schwarzenegger when asked to respond to the actor's campaign remarks over the weekend that he and Davis are engaged in "a war."

"I was in a real war. Not a movie war, a real war, and I was proud to defend my country," Davis said.

Davis also discounted a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that shows voters favoring his removal from office and Schwarzenegger far ahead of his nearest rivals as the Oct. 7 election approaches.

Other public polls have shown the gap closing and Davis said the only one that mattered was next week's vote.

Also on Monday, Schwarzenegger released a new campaign ad in which he says "California is in trouble because the politicians have let us down." Addressing the camera directly, he speaks of his background in business and as an advocate for children. Unlike the two negative ads Schwarzenegger released last week, the tribal ad and another one attacking Davis, the new 30-second spot doesn't mention Schwarzenegger's competitors. It begins airing statewide Tuesday.


Associated Press Writers Tom Chorneau, Juliana Barbassa and Tom Harrigan contributed to this report.


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