- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

LOS ANGELES - California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis yesterday and replaced him with Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, ending one of the most bizarre elections in American history.

The Austrian-born actor thanked Californias voters early this morning, describing the vote as the latest chapter in his journey from champion bodybuilder to action film star and now governor of the nations most populous state.

“From the time I got here, you embraced me. Everything I have is because of the state of California,” he said after being introduced by Jay Leno — the man who gave Mr. Schwarzenegger the “Tonight Show” platform on which he announced his candidacy.

“I came here with absolutely nothing and now I have absolutely everything. You have given me the greatest gift of all — your trust. I will do everything I can to live up to that trust. I will not disappoint you. I will not let you down,” he told the cheering crowd of supporters in Los Angeles.

With 16 percent of precincts reporting last night, the vote to recall Mr. Davis was ahead by 57 percent to 43 percent. Among the replacement candidates, Mr. Schwarzenegger was the choice of 52 percent, compared with 29 percent for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and 12 percent for state Sen. Tom McClintock, and 2 percent for Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.

Mr. Davis conceded defeat in a Los Angeles hotel shortly after calling Mr. Schwarzenegger to offer congratulations.

“Weve had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years, but the people have said they want someone else to serve,” Mr. Davis said in a speech that was interrupted twice by boos and catcalls from his supporters.

“And I accept their judgment,” he told the audience, after thanking them for their support and “for the opportunity to serve you and make life better.”

Favorable numbers from exit polls and internal Republican polling left the Schwarzenegger camp bursting with confidence even before the polls closed.

“Everyone is feeling very good,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh said just before the polls closed. “When the numbers came in last night, to tell you the truth, the pizza boxes came out [along with] the bottles of red and white California wine.”

All the major networks called the race as soon as the polls closed at 11 p.m. EDT, after a day during which exit surveys showed a clear defeat for Mr. Davis and a victory for Mr. Schwarzenegger.

“It looks like 50 percent for Arnold and 60 percent for recall,” an elated Rep. Darrell Issa said shortly after the polls closed and news organizations rushed to proclaim the outcome. “It doesnt get any better than this.”

Mr. McClintock, a conservative Republican whom some in the party feared would act as a spoiler against the Schwarzenegger campaign, was the first prominent candidate to concede the outcome publicly, shortly before midnight EDT.

Calling his campaign “the conscience of this election,” he said he “helped frame the issues upon which this election was decided.” At about 11:30, Mr. McClintock called the action-movie star to offer his congratulations, according to the sources in the actors camp.

“In response to a common danger, the people of California rose to their duties and ordered a new direction for our state,” Mr. McClintock said in his speech.

Mr. Bustamante spoke last night, but merely to claim credit for the defeat of a ballot proposition on race.

Supporters of the Austrian-born film star said that a strong margin of victory, combined with yesterdays heavy turnout, would give their candidate a powerful popular mandate.

Yesterdays election is “a mandate that everyone is going to support,” said Mr. Issa, the Republican congressman who bankrolled the petition drive that put the Davis recall on the ballot but dropped out of the governors race early.

“The rejection of Gray Davis and the left is what this election is all about. Heaven help those who arent willing to make changes with Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Democrats, however, made a slew of accusations in the last few days based on media reports that Mr. Schwarzenegger was guilty of sexual misconduct and expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.

But an exit poll of more than 2,800 voters conducted for the Associated Press and other news organizations by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International showed that about seven in 10 voters said they had made up their minds on the recall question more than a month before the election.

Mr. Schwarzenegger began his acceptance speech last night by enthusiastically thanking his wife, Maria Shriver.

“I want to thank her for the love and the strength she has given me. And I know how many votes I got because of you,” he said of Mrs. Shriver, who continued to campaign for her husband as the sexual misconduct charges swirled around his campaign.

Mr. Walsh said the Schwarzenegger campaigns polling found that the weekend of revelations of sexual misconduct had “virtually no impact.”

“Among women voters, we actually went up a couple of points,” Mr. Walsh said.

Mr. Davis had expressed optimism yesterday morning that he would keep his job.

“I feel terrific,” Mr. Davis said after casting his ballot in West Hollywood, just minutes after pornographer and gubernatorial candidate Larry Flynt. “Ive always trusted the voters of California, and I know they are going to do the right thing.”

In his victory speech, Mr. Schwarzenegger said Mr. Davis had pledged in his concession call to work with the incoming governor.

“I really appreciate that call because he promised to work hard to make the transition smooth,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

A Field Poll gauged a turnout of 65 percent of registered voters, or around 10 million. A little more than 7 million voted in the 2002 election that Mr. Davis thought guaranteed him a four-year term.

Mr. Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat on the ballot, urged “no” on the recall but “yes” for him, a difficult strategy for winning. Mr. Davis campaign did not support his fellow Democrats candidacy, urging only that voters keep him in office.

In an interview with MSNBC in his hometown of Sacramento, Mr. Bustamante acknowledged that he ultimately hoped the recall would succeed.

“You would be disappointed, but you carry on,” he said when asked how he would feel if the recall failed but he finished first among the alternative candidates. “I said ‘no on the recall and yes on Bustamante the whole time. I was hoping that [Mr. Davis] would come over.”

Pre-election polls showed that support for keeping Mr. Davis in Sacramento had never risen higher than 45 percent.

Exit poll numbers released last night showed that 72 percent of the voters disapproved of Mr. Davis performance in office. Mr. Davis was elected in 2002 with 47 percent of the vote and had registered the lowest job-approval ratings in the states history.

Schwarzenegger supporter James Crean, 38, of Los Angeles said he was therefore not surprised the actor won so handily.

“Gray Davis not only did a lousy job, but he had an opportunity to understand the recall and say ‘Im going to make some budget cuts,” he said. “But there was nothing he could do to undo the feelings of people across the state, so he was kicked out of office.”

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley estimated that more than 3 million people voted by absentee ballot, a demographic that tended to favor Republicans. More than 2 million of those absentee ballots were submitted before the sexual misconduct charges against Mr. Schwarzenegger surfaced in the Los Angeles Times.

The paper found 15 women who accused Mr. Schwarzenegger of groping them, or worse, on movie sets and in gyms since the 1970s. Mr. Schwarzenegger acknowledged acting inappropriately at times, but said most of the specific accusations in the paper were false.

The official results of the election may not be known for several days because of the complications involved in counting ballots with 135 candidates. Mr. Shelley said he likely would need the full 40 days allowed by law to certify the election.

The count of the millions of absentee ballots wont begin until this morning, and many are expected to come in the mail in the coming days. The absentee ballots are considered valid if they were postmarked no later than yesterday.

The end of the election will not be the end of the drama. Democrats, embittered by the first successful attempt to get enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot, have pledged legal action to dispute the validity of the election.

“Absolutely,” state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland told the Modesto Bee newspaper, when asked about the partys preparations for a national drive to raise $100,000 for legal challenges.

“Were going to do everything thats legal to have the votes counted in California, and were putting the Republicans on notice that were prepared for their goon tactics this time.”

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