SAN FRANCISCO - When former President Bill Clinton arrives in California to campaign with Gov. Gray Davis on Sunday, he will be the first in a long line of Democratic heavyweights scheduled to stump for the governor between now and the Oct. 7 recall election.
Support for Davis' ouster, strong when the recall campaign began, has been fading: A Los Angeles Times poll released late Thursday found 47 percent of likely voters are inclined to vote against the recall, compared with 50 percent who support it. The shift has sent several high-profile Democrats flocking to the state to align their fortunes with the governor.
"This is a national effort to make sure Gray Davis stays in office," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who helped organize the visits. "I made a lot of the phone calls myself, and there was no hesitancy from anyone."
Several 2004 Democratic presidential candidates are planning campaign visits with Davis in the next two weeks, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the nominal frontrunner among the Democratic presidential candidates, campaigned with Davis last weekend.
"Clearly, there's a sense that Davis has a chance to survive," said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont-McKenna College. "And even if Davis should go down, they are hoping to have an energized Democratic base that will turn out and work hard in 2004."
Others visiting include civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, governors Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Gary Locke of Washington; and popular former governors Mario Cuomo of New York and Ann Richards of Texas.
Clinton, arguably still the party's most popular figure, will campaign with Davis at a predominantly black church in Los Angeles on Sunday. On Monday, the two will attend the dedication of the William Jefferson Clinton Elementary School in Compton. The former president also will headline a fundraiser for Davis in Los Angeles at the home of financier Ron Burkle.
California Republican Party Chairman Duf Sundheim dismissed the visits from national Democrats, saying they revealed Davis' weaknesses.
"It shows Davis needs to go outside the state to get Democrats to stand by his side," Sundheim said. "I can't see it benefiting him. The people of California know him, and they've made up their minds that they need change."