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Group: Calif. recall vote assured

Organizers of a Republican-led effort to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis declared Tuesday they have 1.4-million signatures, more than enough to force a recall election in the fall.

"An election's going to happen here pretty quick," said Tom Hiltachk of Rescue California Recall Gray Davis.

The effort needs 897,158 valid signatures _ 12 percent of the number of voters in the previous California election _ to get on the ballot.

The signatures collected will be sent to county election officials to be verified. They will report the results to the secretary of state on July 23. If the secretary of state certifies enough signatures have been gathered, an election must be called within 60 to 80 days.

"The figure that's generally been talked about, if they come up with 1.2-million to 1.3-million raw, then you get to the 897,000 valid," Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said.

If the Davis recall makes it onto the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: whether to remove the governor, and which candidate on the ballot they want instead. The only declared major-party candidate is Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who is bankrolling the recall.

Davis is vulnerable because of voter wrath over the state's energy crisis and a budget deficit estimated at $38-billion. His approval rating is down to 21 percent, the lowest on record for a California governor.

A Fourth of July weekend blitz pushed the signature total to around 1.2-million, organizers said. Two smaller drives collected 200,000 signatures. The totals prompted organizers to pull signature gatherers out of the field.

A spokesman for Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall said he doubts Rescue California's claims.

"Our basic response is, we will believe it when we see it," Carroll Wills said. "The proponents of the recall have had kind of a pattern of inflating their estimates and not coming at the targets they indicated they had achieved."

Rescue California plans to shift its focus to getting the recall passed, director Dave Gilliard said.

"We have an aggressive campaign planned for that phase," he said.

Gilliard said a $13-million budget is planned for the effort, which will involve all the elements of a traditional political campaign, including direct mail, precinct walking and television advertising.

He said he is meeting with major donors who have been reluctant to get involved but who said they would reconsider once the recall became a reality.