Friday, August 01, 2003

Gov. Toast? John Fund, at the WSJ, takes the opposite tack on Gray Davis. While I argued that, faced with a broad card of challengers, he was in a relatively strong position, Fund argues that other Democrats are starting to declare him dead . . . and selflessly offering themselves as replacements. Fund is right on that a slip in backing from his party dooms Davis:
But for the first time Democrats are now openly talking about allowing someone in their party to appear on the recall ballot to offer an alternative for the party faithful. It's looking increasingly likely that Gov. Davis will have to fight a two-front war, in which he will have to beat both Republicans and factions within his own party. If that happens, he'll be unlikely to survive.
But what he doesn't mention is the extent to which the Democrats are engaging in self-fulfilling prophecy. If they start to worry that Davis is "toast" in the reported words of Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats jockey for position, Davis will be toast. Further complicating matters is that most California Dems realize this. Thus, as Fund notes but doesn't comment upon, it is precisely those Democrats who would run who are quickest to worry about Davis's chances:
Then state Sen. Dean Florez declared it would be "suicidal" for the party not to have a candidate on a ballot that would select a Davis successor. Mr. Florez said "voters are going to be shocked when they flip the card and see there is no viable Democrat in the race." If no other major Democrats put their name on the ballot, Mr. Florez said, he would.
Gosh, how big of him.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez . . . said "we need to have a strong Democrat on the ballot." If Ms. Feinstein or a similarly well-known candidate doesn't run, Ms. Sanchez said, "I'll have to."
See what I'm getting at here? The tacit theme seems to be, "Davis could go over the cliff at any minute, so why not put me on the ballot just in case." And once that happens, Davis will be in freefall -- partly because the candidacy of one other Democrat would be an "apres moi, le deluge" phenomenon.

This is beginning to remind me of Trent Lott's last days as Majority Leader. A lot of other people wanted the job, but nobody wanted to give him that first shove. The Dems are showing an incredible lack of discipline in California, and it looks like the odds will shift soon. I'll argue it one more time: Their best chance is to stand pat with Davis, even if they don't like him much. People who hint that they would run "just in case" should be disciplined and told that the party will blackball them.

More: Another thing to consider is how much the Democrats (that is, bread-and-butter California Dems, not Terry McAuliffe) believe that keeping Davis weakens the state in 2004. Does another year of Davis open the door just a bit for Bush -- and, implicitly, his coattails? Some pundits made this argument while Clinton was being impeached -- remove him and let Gore run as the incumbent in 2000. It's moot, of course, but interesting given how 2000 turned out. That said, if I were a betting man, I would say that Dems are actually better off if Davis stays. Getting 50% plus one vote to agree will be the trick.

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