Recall as a revolt of the other California

The recall election of Governor Davis, scheduled for Oct. 7, pits the state's hinterlands against liberal strongholds.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Philip Dobbs is befuddled. Sitting beside Market Street in the cool shadows cast by the San Francisco skyline, he picks at his lunch distractedly, not comprehending the political upheaval that has gripped his state. "No one here wanted to recall Gray Davis," says the goateed paralegal. "It's a big waste of money."

Donita Morris, however, has no such confusion. Taking refuge from the Central Valley's 103-degree F. heat in the skylit vault of the Roseville Galleria mall, she openly laughs when Governor Davis's name is mentioned. "It's just one mess after another, and it needs to change," she says.

Between these two cities - and these two voters - is a divide that separates two very different Californias. Long bullied by Los Angeles and the Bay Area - the state's two biggest and most Democratic population centers - the often-overlooked corners of California are staging a revolt that has echoed across the nation.

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It comes from rural Main Streets where storefront displays selling "Guns and Ammo" don't get a second look. It comes from suburban kingdoms where the horizon is sketched by the geometric tilt of red-tile roofs. It comes from the 40 counties - of 58 - that did not choose Davis in last year's election.

The outrage is obvious in the streets and shops of Roseville, where many residents pour forth their frustrations as if they had been uncorked. Yet it is no less apparent amid the tall towers of San Francisco, where hip 20-somethings and aging hippies say the democratic process has been hijacked by sore losers. Whichever California is more motivated, experts say, will decide this October's recall vote.

"In elections, it's between [Los Angeles and the Bay Area] and the rest of California," says Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll in San Francisco. "Look at any close vote and it comes down to that dynamic."

His own survey this month hints at the split. While Los Angeles was almost evenly divided on the question of removing Davis, the rest of southern California wanted to oust Davis by a margin of 57 percent to 36 percent. Likewise, while 57 percent of the Bay Area respondents opposed the recall, 56 percent of the rest of northern California supported it. Support ran even higher in the Central Valley.

Indeed, an analysis of the recall signatures shows that San Francisco was the only county in which less than 1 percent of registered voters gave a valid signature. By contrast, the Central Valley's Placer County, which includes Roseville, was the only county to top 20 percent, according to registration data from earlier this year.

Some of that, organizers say, is a reflection of where signature gatherers were most active and organized. But there's an underlying reality, too. While saying he will not concede any other county, recall leader Ted Costa acknowledges, "We're going to lose San Francisco."

It certainly appears that way. At the mouth of the Montgomery Street subway station, where commuters pour out into the slatted sunshine of a clear summer morning, a long-haired woman who identifies herself only as "Mo" leaves little doubt of her opinion. Her list of recall complaints could be a manifesto for the people of this hill city. It's a waste of money. It won't fix the problem. It's a Republican power grab.

This "is a smokescreen," she says.

She is not alone in her skepticism - or her disgust. Like his crisp blue Oxford, Mr. Dobbs is more reserved in his expression, more measured in his words. But his sentiments are largely the same.

For months now, he felt like a spectator as the story of the recall unfolded. He never saw a signature-gatherer for the recall petition - and he wouldn't have signed anyway. To him, it is a ploy hatched by the GOP in some far corner of the state, not an honest attempt to find solutions.

"They're angry because they lost, so now they're using a trick to get a Republican into office," he says, crouched on the stone steps of a small Market Street plaza. "I wasn't involved in the process ... but I will be a part of it [in October]."

Davis backers will be glad of the Bay Area support, because closer to Sacramento, the outlook is decidedly more uncertain. Running from the outskirts of the capital city to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Placer County represents a sort of new conservative nexus, encompassing rural voters, retirees, and the outermost ripple of suburban Sacramento.

It's is the state's fastest-growing county, and presents a challenge for Davis. With significant numbers of Democrats suggesting that they might support the recall, the governor must hold the line here. "Placer is a good case of where the Democrats and independents will be key," says Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.

If Christopher Bello is any indication, Davis will have some work to do. Along a nearly deserted section of Roseville's Vernon Street, the short-sleeved and bushy-haired businessman pauses reluctantly in the late-afternoon heat. He says he does not affiliate strongly with either party, but he supports the recall because of the budget debacle. "Davis said the deficit was a certain amount before the [2002] election, then came out after the election and said something different."

Although Davis maintains that he was merely reporting the estimates of the nonpartisan state budget officer, Mr. Bello retorts: "I just don't think he's been a good leader."

The comments resonate across the city, from the nearby freight yard threaded by squealing train cars to the Roseville Galleria, an umber palace outside town. Seated in an armchair amid air conditioning, the potent smell of scented candles, and a seemingly endless permutation of Gap stores, Ms. Morris senses that this revolt has been building for a long time.

"People just see that now it's time to do something," she says.

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