As the California recall election remains in limbo, a coalition of minor candidates with major aspirations is trying to get more respect from a dismissive press corps.
"You're talking to a group of leaders here," says candidate Cheryl Bly-Chester, a Republican environmental consultant who has managed to get about 70 serious-minded hopefuls to attend meetings in venues across the state ranging from Beverly Hills to the USS Hornet, a retired aircraft carrier in the San Francisco Bay. "We are not each other's opponents. The big opponent is the media."
Among the items still on the coalition's agenda: Should the second-tier candidates combine resources and endorse one or two of their own to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he is recalled? How about appointing a spokesperson to spread the word about their ideas? And, most pressing of all, should they take Jay Leno up on his invitation to appear in the audience of his talk show Monday?
Many of the no-hopers are suspicious that Mr. Leno's attempt to get all 135 wannabe replacement candidates on one show is another opportunity to portray the recall race as a circus. The hopefuls who have been holding regular meetings are tired of press reports that make it seem as though voters will be greeted with trapeze artists, lion tamers, and clown cars at their local polling place. They're weary of reporters who are obsessed with celebrity candidates (Leno promises a "booster chair" for actor Gary Coleman), wacko candidates (including the Republican whose entire ballot statement consists of the words "I breathe"), and the craziness of it all (a daily newspaper regularly asks the also-rans if they'll serve a cheap wine known as "Two-Buck Chuck" at state dinners).
"We certainly don't think of it as a circus at all. We are all serious people," says Democrat Marc Valdez, an air-quality meteorologist in Sacramento who is campaigning on a platform of repealing Proposition 13.
The first general meeting of candidates took place in the Northern California town of Alameda in August, attracting some two dozen candidates of all political stripes, but none of the household names on the ballot. "Most people were either there to get some publicity or find ways to get more publicity," says Democrat Paul Mariano, a Bay Area public defender's office supervisor.
Another meeting is planned for Saturday in Sacramento, and the coalition plans a rally Monday across the street from NBC Studios in Burbank, where Leno's show is taped.
The idea of throwing support behind a small number of minor candidates hasn't caught on, and coalition members haven't developed any major strategies to attract attention other than holding even more meetings. But the hopefuls do say that they've gained great respect for one another.
"The media has not given credence to the incredible solutions coming out of the candidates. There are some really intelligent, bright, well-known people. And the media has focused on 10 of the idiots," says Natural Law Party candidate Iris Adams, a business analyst from Irvine who's proud to be the queen of clubs in a $6.99 deck of cards emblazoned with the names and photos of 52 candidates.
Despite all the jokes, the minor candidates could have a major impact on the election if Gov. Davis is actually recalled. "None of the 130 [unknown candidates] will get elected. We know that," says Donald Saari, distinguished professor of economics and mathematics at the University of California at Irvine. "But they can change the election. The sum total of voters for this 130 could make the difference between a win for Candidate A or Candidate B."
The most recent Field Poll found that four percent of voters may support candidates other than the six front-runners. But there's a problem. "We cannot read 135 names to people over the phone and we can't simulate the ballot, which is ultimately what we try to do," says Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "I don't know what the answer is."
Regardless of who wins, Ms. Bly-Chester hopes the minor candidates help swing the election. "It's not such a bad thing in our reasoning," she says. "If the governor gets in with a very narrow margin, that governor will have an awful lot to prove and have to strive for a lot of unity. That would be a wonderful thing for California right now."