The main event of California's recall election continues to generate both steam and fog as "real" politicians duke it out with legitimate wannabes and outright opportunists.
The spectacle it generates and the effect it has - either galvanizing voters or turning them off - could alter the outcome of a lesser known but highly important proposition that will be decided on the same ballot.
Known as the "Racial Privacy Initiative," the measure would prevent state entities from sorting people by race. Approval would mean that no government agency in California would be allowed to ask for details of race, ethnicity, color, or national origin on job applications. And the state could not use such data to classify people involved in public education, public contracting, or public employment.
In a tight race, turnout by voters on the controversial initiative could also tip the balance of who wins the governorship.
"One of the most compelling things to watch in the California recall will be the dynamics of which voters are most motivated to turn out, and which will stay at home," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. "If national civil rights and other organizations who are opponents of this initiative generate enough attention and money against it, that could bring [out] the voters who could help Davis defeat the recall."
Early polls indicate that more than half the public supports the initiative. But while advocates and opponents argue over the merits of the idea itself, analysts say it will be the body of voters drawn by the leading players in the recall - primarily Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat Cruz Bustamante - that will decide the measure's fate.
"The poll numbers are so close on this initiative at the moment that it very well could turn on whether Democrats have the larger turnout, in which case it goes down, or Republicans, which will help it pass," says Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California.
Although it's possible that the initiative could get lost in the sideshow of the governor's race, Professor Jeffe says it is also possible that the recent national debate over affirmative action, and the importance of California as an incubator for new trends, could have the opposite effect. At least enough to alter a tight race.
The Austrian-born frontrunner, Mr. Schwarzenegger, will be trying to capitalize on his outsider, immigrant status to attract Latinos and Asians to his candidacy. He will also try to minimize the damage to such constituencies caused by his support of Proposition 187, a measure that denied government aid to illegal aliens. Passed by voters in 1994, Proposition 187 was then put on hold by a federal court.
Mr. Bustamante, on the other hand, is the leading Democrat in the race. The Mexican-American, who grew up in Los Angeles, attracted a solid base of Latino voters by opposing the measure.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger has contracted a good number of the political consultants that pushed Prop 187 and angered Latinos," says Larry Berg, founder of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "The debate over this initiative is going to put heat on Arnold in having to deal with his support of that in the past. That could hurt him significantly with key voters."
The Racial Privacy Initiative is more formally known as the "Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color, or National Origin Initiative." It is being pushed by Ward Connerly, the same University of California regent who introduced Proposition 209, which barred racial and gender preferences for all state institutions.
Mr. Connerly claims he is after a "colorblind" society in which people filling out enrollment forms, job applications, and health surveys won't be classified as white, black, Latino, or Asian. Predictably, Connerly's proposal has been lauded by some and lambasted by others.
"We all want a colorblind society in which race is no longer a divisive, sensitive and difficult consideration," says Elena Stern, spokeswoman for Coalition for an Informed California. "We are fighting this on the grounds that having that information helps us fight against the ills that keep us from having a colorblind society."
With out basic data on race, says Ms. Stern, society will be unable to identify and solve problems related to race such as how diseases, teen pregnancy, and teen smoking affect different racial groups. Likewise, the Connerly initiative, say opponents, would make it impossible to determine whether race gaps in test scores are narrowing in schools, or whether all racial groups have an equal opportunity to compete for advance placement courses.
But proponents say the initiative does allow for exceptions for "medical research subjects," and classifying criminals.
"This is not about data," says Diane Schacterle, spokesman for the initiative. "It's about ... a government that should never treat citizens different based on race."