State officials set an Oct. 7 date for the election on whether to recall Democratic Governor Gray Davis, giving him less than three months to fight for his political life.
Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante announced the date on Thursday, one day after state officials certified that the Republican-led drive to recall Davis had collected more than enough signatures to make it onto the ballot.
It will be the US' first gubernatorial recall election in 82 years.
Candidates seeking to replace Davis must now scramble to start their campaigns and declare their candidacies by Aug. 9 -- 59 days before the election. Bustamante, himself a Democrat, selected the latest possible date allowed by California law for the unprecedented recall election.
By Thursday, just one Republican candidate -- US Representative Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the recall signature-gathering effort with US$1.7 million of his own money -- was definitely in the running. Several others were said to be weighing a decision, including actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.
Kemp didn't immediately return a message left after hours Thursday.
Schwarzenegger, in Mexico to promote Terminator 3, said: "I have no announcement to make, if that's your question."
Davis has branded the Republican-led drive to oust him "a hostile takeover by the right," and allies have said they expect to spend US$15 million to US$20 million to campaign against the recall.
The recall effort has set the stage for a bruising political battle.
"Up until today it was a referendum on Gray Davis," state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland said. "Now it's a comparison between Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat progressive, against a Republican bum."
Recall supporters say they are planning a "very aggressive campaign" with a US$15 million budget.