With a little help from "Doonesbury" cartoons lampooning Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham (R), petitioners in a campaign to oust him said last week that they have collected 182,264 signatures and need 34,482 more to force a recall election.

The group officially began the recall drive on July 6, six months after Mecham took office, and has until Nov. 3 to gather at least 216,746 valid signatures from registered voters. Figuring that an average 20 percent of the names will be declared invalid, recall organizers have set a goal of 350,000 signatures.

Mecham said of the drive, "I guess we really should confine that issue to where it belongs -- in the comics -- and let it go at that," adding, "We haven't really worried about it." He also discounted a recent poll that shows half the people in the state's most populous county think he should be recalled.

Mecham's troubles began when he rescinded a state holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a move that has cost the state millions of dollars in canceled conventions. He also was criticized for endorsing schoolbooks that contained references to black children as "pickaninnies."

The governor is seeking to bounce back by mailing a newsletter stressing his successes to the state's more than 900,000 registered voters. Mecham also hired a new press secretary in hopes of improving relations with the media, which he tends to blame for many of his problems.

Meanwhile, Mecham will be part of the entourage that welcomes Pope John Paul II to Phoenix on Monday. Asked what he will say to the pope, Mecham replied, "Golly, I don't know. I don't know whether he speaks English or not. The right things will come. We'll welcome him, that's one thing."

The pope speaks seven languages, including English.