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GOP embraces Schwarzenegger

Bill Simon, left, former California gubernatorial candidate, endorses Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bill Simon, left, former California gubernatorial candidate, endorses Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Chris Pizzello, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Two leading California Republicans threw their support behind Arnold Schwarzenegger in the state's gubernatorial recall Thursday, a day after the political novice held his own in a barb-filled debate.

Former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon announced Thursday that he was endorsing Schwarzenegger, and Rep. Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the drive to get the recall on the ballot, planned to do the same at an appearance with the actor today, a Republican source said.

"I am here to endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is the right man to be governor of California," Simon told a town hall meeting.

The endorsements provide a key boost to Schwarzenegger's candidacy with only a week and a half remaining until Election Day. It also puts more pressure on conservative Republican Sen. Tom McClintock to fall in line behind Schwarzenegger's candidacy — something he has refused to do.

Although he did not directly call on McClintock to drop out, Simon, a conservative businessman, said it was time for Republicans to unite behind their front-running candidate and noted he himself left the race last month when he was behind in the polls.

McClintock vowed in a string of TV interviews Thursday that he is not going anywhere.

"I don't know what it is that people find so astonishing about a politician who actually keeps his promises," McClintock told Fox News. "I promised at the beginning of this campaign that I would see it through to the finish line, and I keep my promises."

Word of the endorsements comes a day after a debate that was filled with shouting, insults and wisecracks among the five leading candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis. The debate frequently turned rowdy, and candidates routinely jumped on top of each other's answers and shouted to be heard.

Some analysts say the raucous atmosphere may have played into Davis' strategy of portraying the recall as a circus and going about the business of leading California.

"I think a substantial amount of viewers probably wanted to take a shower and think this whole recall thing is a big stinky mess," Marty Kaplan, associate dean at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California. "Should we empower this group of bickering mud wrestlers? You wanted to vote them all off the island."

Polls still show most voters want to get rid of Davis, but the momentum appears to be shifting his way. Three polls released in the last eight days have shown support for the recall slipping and Davis' dismal ratings getting better.

Davis campaign officials say the rowdiness of the debate only improved his standing.

"What we saw was a food fight," said Davis media consultant David Doak.


Contributing: Beth Fouhy.