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Timing awkward for Davis, rival

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Gov. Gray Davis and top candidates lining up for his job used annual Labor Day events Monday to woo workers as the Oct. 7 recall campaign entered its final five weeks.

But a near-crossing of the paths of Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, the only Democratic officeholder among the 135 possible successors to the governor, served as an awkward reminder of the difficulty facing Democrats in the election.

Both men addressed a union-sponsored picnic here southeast of San Francisco, but they did not appear together, and they did not mention each other in their formal remarks. In a careful staging of their appearances, Bustamante followed Davis to the lectern by a few minutes, with a mariachi band sandwiched between them.

The state's biggest unions have backed Davis, urging a no vote on the first part of the Oct. 7 ballot, which asks whether Davis should be recalled. But they have also endorsed Bustamante on the replacement part of the ballot should Davis lose the first vote.

Though Davis has praised Bustamante as the most qualified of the substitute candidates, he has not endorsed him, and the men have avoided each other on the campaign trail. On Monday, Davis and prominent Democrats and union leaders were whisked from the stage before Bustamante was introduced to the crowd.

The symbolism of the silent passing was not lost on many of the several hundred people at the picnic.

"He should be standing up there and endorsing Cruz Bustamante," Pete Martucci, a retired construction worker, said of Davis. "It is the same party. . . . We need a Democrat as a backup. People are here to support Cruz Bustamante because they believe Gray Davis is on his way out."

In his remarks to the crowd, Davis attacked one of his chief critics, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and warned that a vote for Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was a vote for former Gov. Pete Wilson, who is one of Schwarzenegger's campaign chairmen.