Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Taco Bell joins the fray in California's electoral joke


California Governor Gray Davis suffered a setback on Thursday when the state's Democratic Congressional delegation backed Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante should a recall vote unseat incumbent Davis, while a fast-food outlet, Taco Bell, has reduced the state's colorful electoral circus to a battle between spicy Mexican take-away meals.

Davis had originally hoped to defeat the Oct. 7 recall vote keeping other Democrats from the ballot, but Bustamante split the party by putting his name on the ballot.

The decision, announced by Zoe Lofgren, head of the state's 33-member Democratic congressional delegation, is likely to be especially bitter for Davis because of his strong personal animosity toward Bustamante.

"We will strongly express our firm opposition to this misguided effort between now and election day and we will strongly campaign against it," Lofgren said. "In addition, we ask that after Californians vote `No' and reject the recall, they cast a vote for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante."

In more bad news for Davis, a poll released on Thursday suggested that he could well be out of a job soon. A Public Policy Institute of California survey of 993 likely voters from Aug. 8 to Aug. 17 found 58 percent wanted to recall Davis.

"A stagnant economy, a very public and unpopular budget drama and a distrustful electorate: all the makings of a perfect storm," said survey leader Mark Baldassare.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger led the survey among replacement candidates with 23 percent, with Bustamante second at 18 percent. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger is a crunchy beef taco, while Governor Gray Davis is chicken in soft wrapping, according to Taco Bell.

Consumers can now "put their vote where their mouth is," said Laurie Schalow, a spokeswoman for the Taco Bell chain which Thursday launched a "Taco Poll" in which diners can choose their next governor from the menu.

The fast-food chain threw its popular products into the electoral ring, saying that if punters bought its Crunchy Beef Tacos, they would be casting a vote for the Austrian-born former body builder.

But if hungry patrons opt instead for a Chicken Soft Taco, their choice would be counted as a vote for embattled Davis, the target of the Oct. 7 special elections aimed at ousting him.

"Buy a Grilled Beef Stuft Burrito, and we'll count that as a vote for one of the" 134 other candidates vying for the freewheeling western state's top job if Davis is ousted, an advertisement published in newspapers proclaimed.

The results from the more than 1,000 California fast-food restaurants will be posted on Taco Bell's Web site each Tuesday, Schalow told reporters.

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