JIM LEHRER: The California recall story. We get more from Dean Murphy, who's covering the story for the "New York Times." Dean Murphy, welcome.
DEAN MURPHY: Thank you for having me.
JIM LEHRER: So it's back to square one more or less?
DEAN MURPHY: Well, it's back to the election on October 7, yeah. There will be no more delays. This seems to be the final legal hurdle. It's removed. Both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans moved forward today like the campaign was on as ever before.
JIM LEHRER: All right. This 11-judge panel, why did they... what did they say about why they reversed their three colleagues who a week ago had stopped the election?
DEAN MURPHY: Well it was a consensus opinion. You had 11 judges, some appointed by Republican presidents, some appointed by Democrats, all coming on the same page. So they essentially had a very narrow view of things. They held that the district court last month did not abuse its discretion in refusing to delay the election. That was the essence of their ruling. The Bush v. Gore issue which had been such an important part of the three judges' ruling last week was dealt in one paragraph in this 12-page opinion.
In that paragraph, the opinion gave both sides something to chew on. It said that it was not unreasonable for judges to disagree on such subjects but I it also quoted Bush v. Gore as saying that it was not an equal protection violation just for local counties and states to have different voting systems. So in the end it did not weigh in too heavily on that issue and allowed that the lower court didn't make any mistakes and therefore that was good enough for these judges.
JIM LEHRER: Now these judges, I assume that the three judges from the same court who had a week ago reversed the lower court were not part of this 11, right? These are three others.
DEAN MURPHY: That's right. They were not.
JIM LEHRER: All right. The election now is back to October 7, so bring us up to date politically on what the polls are showing. Now there are two elements to it. First there's the recall of Gray Davis. Then there's the second, if you get rid of Davis, who do you favor to replace him. On the first question, what do polls show and what anecdotal evidence is there about where that stands on just getting rid of Gray Davis?
DEAN MURPHY: Well, the issue of getting rid of Gray Davis has actually worked closer to his favor in recent weeks. The polls show the gap narrowing. He still is losing. No poll has shown him winning in effect of holding off the recall. But the margin is closing rapidly. The question for Gray Davis is whether it can close fast enough and enough by October 7. So he was putting a positive spin on it today saying that he thinks the momentum is his and that he's glad it's going forward. He wants to strike while the iron is hot and that he's going to win. The question is whether or not, in fact, the polls will indicate that that narrows fast enough.
JIM LEHRER: Now then the second element. If, in fact, the voters of California in the first element vote to remove Davis, who replaces him. So where do things stand now in the big... among the big names, Bustamente, the lieutenant governor, and Schwarzenegger and McClintock the two Republicans.
DEAN MURPHY: That got real interesting today. It would have gotten interesting anyway. Now that we know for sure that the election is in two weeks there's a great need especially among the Republicans to get their camp in order. There is a split between the supporters of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the supporters of state Senator Tom McClintock. That split has been in effect for a good month now. If they don't resolve it most people think that the race might go to the lieutenant governor - Cruz Bustamente -- the Democrat. So the Republicans are desperately trying to narrow their field to one. Today there was a bunch of effort to bring people behind Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The question again is whether Tom McClintock will drop out. If he doesn't, the conventional wisdom is maybe they cannot beat the Democrats. That would be a big defeat for the recall supporters who essentially wanted to get rid of Gray Davis and certainly did not want to get another Democrat in there in his place.
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about being back to ground zero. That's where they would be, right?
DEAN MURPHY: They would be. Interestingly yesterday Darrell Issa the congressman from San Diego whose money actually allowed the recall to qualify for the ballot, he spent millions of dollars helping to gather signatures. Yesterday he said that if either McClintock or Schwarzenegger doesn't drop out that he might, in fact, encourage people to vote to keep Gray Davis in office. He thinks that Cruz Bustamente who is not as centralist as Governor Davis would be a worse alternative. If the Republicans can't get their acts together in the next two weeks, the man who put all his money behind this effort may actually encourage people to vote for Gray Davis.
JIM LEHRER: Nothing surprises anybody on this thing at this point, does it? Look, what is the conventional wisdom? Is McClintock or Schwarzenegger, are either one of them likely to do this, to go willingly and quietly?
DEAN MURPHY: No. That is definitely not expected. Tomorrow is sort of an important date in all of this. Tomorrow night will be the first debate in which all the candidates, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and McClintock, all the top candidates, are going to sit on the same stage and debate one another. Up until now someone has been missing from all of them primarily Arnold Schwarzenegger. So it will be really important to see how the two Republicans do tomorrow and see if either of them get some momentum at this debate that could knock the other one out. Conventional wisdom is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going nowhere. He has the money; he has the support of the mainstream part of the party.
He is the pragmatist behind them. There's a group of pragmatists in the Republican Party who want to have the governorship. They want it badly. They think Arnold Schwarzenegger is their key to get it. Although he may not be a true believer, as they say, on a lot of Republican litmus test issues, they think he can win. Tom McClintock is a conservative Republican. A lot of people think he can't ultimately win. The question is whether or not the purists are able to hold out or the pragmatists win.
JIM LEHRER: And so McClintock is the one who is catching the real pressure, right?
DEAN MURPHY: He is, although he's a real dogged guy. He is the guy who has been around for decades in politics in California. He's consistent. He's sort of the steady Eddie of the group. He has up until now insisted he will not back out. The question is in the end he decides it's in the best interest of Republicans for him to back out. But even if he does his name stays on the ballot. There's a lot of conjecture that his true loyalist supporters will vote for him anyway. A lot of people -- 600,000 people have already voted by absentee ballot. There could be a whole lot of McClintock voters already in there.
JIM LEHRER: We can look at the bright side. Whatever happens will happen on October 7.
DEAN MURPHY: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you very much, Dean Murphy.
DEAN MURPHY: Thank you.