Clinton takes pulpit for Davis
Ex-president rallies blacks against recall
By BOB KEEFE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
LOS ANGELES --
California Gov. Gray Davis enlisted the help of the Democratic Party's biggest name on Sunday in his attempt to keep his job and defeat what he once again characterized as a Republican power grab.
Former President Clinton implored members of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Central Los Angeles to tell their friends and neighbors to vote against the recall on Oct. 7, saying it wasn't just bad for Davis but for the state and the entire country.
"Gray Davis and I have been friends for a long time. I don't want this happening to him . . . but this is way bigger than him," Clinton told a cheering crowd of several hundred at the mostly black church.
"It's you I'm worried about," he said. "It's California I'm worried about. I don't want you to become a laughingstock, a carnival or the beginning of a circus in America where we just throw people out for making tough decisions."
"You don't want to do this," Clinton said of the effort to remove Davis less than a year after he was re-elected to a second four-year term.
Clinton's appearance in California came a day after the leading Republican in the chaotic recall race, Arnold Schwarzenegger, invoked another ex-president, Ronald Reagan
, in a speech at his party's state convention.
While not specifically mentioning trailing state Sen. Tom McClintock, the other major Republican candidate who is shaping up to be a potential spoiler in the race, Schwarzenegger suggested his party needs to solidify around a single candidate.
"We as Republicans have a choice to make," he said, harkening back to a 1964 Reagan speech called "A Time for Choosing." "Are we going to be united or are we going to be divided?"
In recent polls, Schwarzenegger trails Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, by a close margin of 30 percent to 25 percent. McClintock is third, with about 13 percent. Many Republicans are starting to agree with Schwarzenegger that McClintock should drop out of the race to get the party behind a single candidate if they want to win the governor's office in the unusual recall race. McClintock has vowed he will not drop out.
Polls also show Californians are closely divided on whether to recall Davis. A Los Angeles Times poll shows respondents saying they're evenly split.
Clinton, who is still very popular in California and visited the state frequently while in office, also is expected to appear on Davis' behalf today.
Sunday, his 40-minute talk that was part stump speech, part sermon, was designed to appeal specifically to African-American voters, who typically comprise a slim but important 6 percent to 8 percent of the vote in most California elections, according to some estimates.
"They say he's really the first black president, regardless of his color . . . and I agree," said Cheryl Jackson, who attended Sunday's service. "I'm voting against the recall."
Others, however, used the gathering in the heart of one of the roughest areas of Los Angeles to rally for the recall and against Davis.
"He [Davis] needs to stand up like a man for all the mistakes he's made," said Luis Molina, who carried a "Yes on Recall" sign outside the church. Molina said he's a registered Independent who plans to vote for Schwarzenegger. "But no, he needs Big Daddy Bill to come here for him."
Davis spoke first to worshippers, occasionally invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., biblical scripture and a touch of fire-and-brimstone.
"There are forces arrayed against us -- powerful forces both in California and Washington," Davis said, adding that Republicans behind the recall "threaten the very fabric of democracy."