SPENCER MICHELS: Considered a crucial event in the campaign, the long-awaited debate was carried on more than 100 California TV and radio stations, according to the sponsor, the California Broadcasters Association. The group invited the five candidates it figured had a chance to win, based on recent polls. Although the questions were submitted to the candidates in advance, the follow-up questions and the discussion were not scripted, and everyone took advantage of that, turning the event into a theatrical free- for-all. Here's an exchange between independent Arianna Huffington, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, GOP State Senator Tom McClintock, and actor Arnold Schwarnegger, on how to enhance state revenues, a key topic in a state with a huge budget deficit.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, the first thing I would do is close corporate tax loopholes. And what I find amazing is that Republicans really do not believe that morality applies to businesses. You know, morality for them is just sexual morality.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Let me just say one thing...
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Let me just say...
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: ...You personally... your personal income tax has the biggest loophole. I can drive my hummer through it. That's how big your loophole is. ( Laughter ) let me tell you something. I don't know what you're talking about.
STATE SEN. TOM McCLINTOCK: This state is already spending a larger portion of people's earnings than at any time in its history. We are not suffering A... a revenue problem.
LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: Well, clearly, we spent too much...
STATE SEN. TOM McCLINTOCK: Why did you?
LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: We spent more then... as a government. As a government, we spent more than was coming in. There's no rocket science to this. We've done all the easy things, and now it's time to do the tough things.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't understand the whole thing. So what you're saying is that... the politicians make a mistake; they keep spending and spending and spending, and then when they realize they made a mistake and spent money they don't even have, then they go out, they go tax, tax, tax. You guys have an addiction problem. You should go to an addiction place, because you cannot stop spending. (Applause )
SPENCER MICHELS: Governor Davis did not take part in the debate. With the election just 12 days away, the polls show Davis trailing, though not as much as earlier, on the question of whether he should be recalled. 53 percent of likely voters would remove him, while 42 percent intend to vote against the recall. Among candidates to replace Davis should he lose: Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante leads with 28 percent; Arnold Schwarzenegger has 26 percent; and State Senator Tom McClintock, 14, up 5 percent from a month ago. McClintock, regarded as the most conservative in the race, has continued to resist pressure to withdraw and leave the Republican field to Schwarzenegger.
TOM McCLINTOCK: I'm in this race to the finish line.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: It would be better if he's out of the race, because then we don't have to split the votes.
SPENCER MICHELS: In the debate, neither showed any signs of quitting. Both Republicans stressed the need to bring new jobs to California.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: We have the worst economic atmosphere, the worst business atmosphere in California. And what we see is that because of that, businesses are leaving the state and jobs are leaving the state.
STATE SEN. TOM McCLINTOCK: We've had a net loss of nearly a third of a million jobs in the last two-and-a-half years...
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, that's because of the economic problems of the Bush administration...
STATE SEN. TOM McCLINTOCK: We have had the first net-out migration of domestic population in our state's history. And a lot of that is going to Arizona and Nevada.
SPENCER MICHELS: Green party candidate Peter Camejo disagreed with that.
PETER CAMEJO: People are not leaving California; they're pouring in to California. We're having a jobless recovery. That is, the corporations are making more money than ever before, but not the people.
SPENCER MICHELS: Republican Congressman Darrel Issa, who financed the recall drive and then dropped out of the race for governor, fears a split republican vote would mean a victory by the Democrat Bustamante, whom he regards as too liberal.
REP. DARRELL ISSA: When you vote, if there are still two major Republicans, Tom McClintock and Arnold Schwarzenegger, then I advise you to vote no on the recall.
SPENCER MICHELS: Bustamante, the only democrat among the top candidates, answered a question about state funds being used for the children of illegal immigrants.
LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: The one thing you shouldn't do, Stan, just sort of in life is take it out on the kids. You know, I mean, it's not their fault that their parents are here. They're also the same people who work hard every single day. They pay their taxes. They stay out of trouble with the law. You know, for them not to be able to have a driver's license or to be able to put their kids into school, I think is just wrong.
SPENCER MICHELS: The issue brought out differences between Schwarzenegger and McClintock.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm very passionate about children's issues. I think we have to take care of our children, and we have to take care of our seniors. This is very important because they cannot fend for themselves.
STATE SEN. TOM McCLINTOCK: We are talking about families that are in this country in violation of our nation's immigration laws. And I don't believe that we should be rewarding such behavior.
SPENCER MICHELS: The debate came just a day after the U.S. Court of appeals unanimously ruled to let the recall election be held on October 7, despite claims by the American civil liberties union that the use of outmoded punch cards in six counties would disenfranchise minority voters. The A.C.L.U. Decided not to appeal the ruling, and so the election and the debate rolled on. President bush and former Governor Pete Wilson became issues that Schwarzenegger had to deal with.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: What happens then is if you spend, spend, spend...
SPOKESMAN: Well, that's what happens when you...
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: ...Then you have to tax, tax, tax. You know, and then all of a sudden, you say where are the jobs? Gone, gone, gone.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Arnold's analysis fits perfectly with the Bush administration in Washington. They keep spending, spending, spending and you have to, you know what...
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Arianna, you keep talking about bush. If you want to campaign against Bush, go to New Hampshire.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, you know what. I want... ( laughter )
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Go to New Hampshire. It's the perfect place for you. You're in the wrong state right now.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know what, because everybody's just so hypocritical...
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: It may be a little bit more decaf.
SPENCER MICHELS: Later, the topic was how local government can function when the state collects the taxes and spends the money.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I think they should continue with the services, if it's job training, or if it is drug rehabilitation programs, or the services they provide with police and fire department; all of those kinds of things that they should have their own way of funding those programs.
PETER CAMEJO: But, Arnold, it was Pete Wilson, your campaign director who took the money from the counties.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Let me make one thing clear. Let me make one thing clear. On October 8, it's not going to be governor Wilson or Governor Bush or any of those kind of things, it's going to be Governor Arnold, okay? So let's make this clear.
SPENCER MICHELS: Schwarzenegger for his part, has been attacking McClintock and Bustamante for taking campaign money from Indian tribes engaged in gambling casinos, and doing favors for the Indians in return.
ARONLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Other states require revenue from Indian gaming, but not us.
SPENCER MICHELS: In the debate, Huffington joined that attack, during a discussion of Bustamante's tough-love economic plan.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know, there's tough love for everybody except for Indian gaming tribes...
SPOKESMAN: Well, that's not true.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: ...And for prison guards union. And that's really the problem here... it's tough love for everybody except your big campaign contributors.
SPENCER MICHELS: Bustamante received a setback this week, when a state judge ordered him to give back any money left from $4 million in campaign contributions from Indian tribes and labor unions. The lieutenant governor had used a finance loophole to gather and spend the money. Meanwhile, Governor Davis, fighting to keep his job, has appeared around the state with a series of high profile Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and several presidential hopefuls.
ANNOUNCER: Newspapers are calling it a circus. Millionaires, local gadflies, political mavericks, even a porn king.
SPENCER MICHELS: And the governor has been playing this commercial depicting the recall as a circus, embarrassing to the state. News reports say that last night's debate did nothing to change that image, though pollsters say they expected the debate to be extremely influential. They say voters have shown a heightened interest in California politics because of the recall, the debate, and the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says that he will not take part in the remaining debates. A large turnout is expected October 7.