SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California Democrats showed signs of growing unease Monday over the election to recall Gov. Gray Davis, with state lawmakers meeting behind closed doors to discuss a possible Democratic alternative and Sen. Barbara Boxer saying Democrats should field another candidate if polls indicate Davis would lose.

The closed-door meeting in Sacramento was to give state senators a chance to talk openly about the upcoming recall campaign and whether they should continue to support the unpopular governor.

“It is my sense that not everybody, but a lot of the Democratic leadership, does think that there needs to be a strong Democratic choice … and that the search is actively under way,” party strategist Darry Sragow said Monday.

Democratic leaders in California decided early on to try to defeat the recall by keeping viable Democratic candidates off the ballot. But several elected officials – three of the state’s representatives in Congress and Boxer – last week publicly questioned that strategy.

Boxer said Monday that some leading Democrats believe it’s a mistake to stick to a campaign strategy that just opposes the recall without considering the need for a viable Democratic candidate.

Boxer said she strongly opposes the recall, but that Democrats should field another candidate if polls show Davis would lose his job. After examining poll results this week, Boxer said she’ll say by Friday if she thinks another Democrat should run. The deadline to enter the race is Saturday.

“The strategy of defeating the recall is a very good strategy. I want to make sure it’s working before the time is over that somebody (else) can run,” she said.

Disagreeing was San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who served 14 years as speaker of the California Assembly. He said the party’s best strategy would be to keep Davis as the sole candidate.

“No Democrat can successfully negotiate those waters,” Brown said Monday.

Davis met with labor leaders in Chicago on Monday. While at the meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, Davis also had an hourlong private meeting with former President Clinton.

Davis declined to say what Clinton, whom he called an adviser and mentor for more than a decade, told him, but said it was a “very good meeting.”

Lawyers for Davis, meanwhile, asked the California Supreme Court on Monday to delay the Oct. 7 recall election until March and to list Davis’ name on the ballot among the candidates seeking to replace him.

The defendants, including Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, have until Wednesday morning to respond.

Voters will make two decisions in the recall election: whether to remove Davis, and whom to choose as his successor if he is recalled. Under California election law, the subject of the recall cannot be on the list of replacement candidates.

Counties have reported 296 people taking out nominating papers so far, but none had completed the application process, the secretary of state’s office said on its Web site.

The rapidly changing list of potential candidates grew Monday, as pornography mogul Larry Flynt declared his intent to join the race.

Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, said the candidate with the best name recognition would probably win.

“I felt that there was nobody out there that had better name recognition than I did,” said Flynt, who would run as a Democrat.

A potential Flynt candidacy and speculation about the aspirations of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger led Boxer to conclude Democrats shouldn’t necessarily pin all their hopes on Davis, she said.

Schwarzenegger’s political advisers said he is leaning against running and will make an announcement Wednesday. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, will then appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to discuss it.

“When one of the leading candidates is announcing yes or no on Jay Leno, another taking out papers is a publisher of pornography, the thing is turning into a somewhat chaotic situation,” Boxer said.

Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Tom Chorneau contributed to this story.

AP-ES-08-04-03 1952EDT

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