JUDGMENT DAY WILL ARNOLD TERMINATE GRAY DAVIS?
The first recall election of a California governor goes to voters today to decide the political fate of Gray Davis and who should succeed him if he's removed from office.
The historic vote caps a colorful and contentious campaign which, in its final days, boiled down to a contest between Davis and actor-businessman Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On the final furious day of campaigning, the two criss-crossed the state Monday to rally their supporters and battled over the governor's record in office and last-minute allegations about Schwarzenegger's past behavior toward women.
``If you give me the chance to finish my term, I will do it with all the passion, all the humanity I can muster, because my goal is to make your life better,'' Davis said at a San Francisco rally where he was greeted by thousands of firefighters.
The Democratic governor also made campaign stops Monday at the Los Angeles Convention Center and in Sacramento, hammering Schwarzenegger and appealing to the Democratic Party's traditional base.
Schwarzenegger made appearances in San Jose, Huntington Beach and San Bernardino, where he blasted Davis and accused him of overspending and a failure of leadership.
In San Jose, he appeared with his wife, Maria Shriver, and made a point of thanking ``all the incredible women'' who were gathered with him behind the podium. Later, the Republican appeared in Huntington Beach with his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
``We have everything here in this state,'' Schwarzenegger said. ``We have a diversified economy; we have businesses that are very innovative. We have hard-working people here. The only thing we don't have is leadership.
``They're chasing jobs out of the state, and now it is time that we chase Gray Davis out of Sacramento.''
The other major candidates - Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock and Peter Camejo of the Green Party - also sought to motivate their supporters, even as a weekend poll showed Schwarzenegger maintaining a lead but the race tightening.
A week ago, polls showed voters were ready to recall Davis and replace him with the bodybuilder-turned-actor, but the gap appeared to narrow in the closing days as Schwarzenegger faced allegations he had groped women in the past. He admitted he had ``behaved badly'' on movie sets at times and apologized to anyone he had offended but denied many of the specifics.
Davis soon seized on the charges in the closing days, saying voters needed to question whether Schwarzenegger was being truthful.
Bustamante has also jumped on the allegations, proclaiming to his supporters Monday, ``If that had been my daughter, it wouldn't have taken an election to resolve it. It would've been up close and personal. We would've resolved it real quick.''
McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, was running third in most polls, but continued to publicly express optimism, predicting Monday, ``I think we have the makings for an upset.''
He said polls have shown voters respect him the most but do not plan to vote for him.
``My message to those folks is it's all right to vote your conscience,'' McClintock said on CNN. ``If everybody who's telling the pollsters they believe I'd do the best job actually votes for me on election day, we'll win.''
Election officials expect a high turnout of voters today. Already, more than 2.2 million absentee ballots have been cast. There are almost 15.4 million registered voters in California, with Democrats comprising 44 percent and Republicans 35 percent.
Also on the ballot today are Proposition 53, which requires the state to set aside a portion of the budget for infrastructure, and Proposition 54, which bars the state from collecting most types of racial data.
Political experts said they have never seen anything like this recall election, which garnered massive national media attention, overshadowing the presidential race. It is expected to generate voter turnout numbers higher than the state has seen for years - contrasting with those for last year's election, which registered a record low for a gubernatorial race.
``It's wacky,'' said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University Sacramento. ``Wacky in both a good and bad way. I think the amount of media coverage of state politics is unprecedented. In that respect, it's good because people are talking about it, they're concerned and interested in it.''
But it's bad, she said, in the sense that the election recently took a sharp negative turn and that may once again serve to alienate voters and see the election as more of the ``same-old, same-old'' campaigning.
The recall provision was added to the state Constitution in 1911 in a wave of Progressive-era reforms pushed by Gov. Hiram Johnson. Since it was enacted, there have been 31 attempts to recall a California governor, but none has made it to the ballot. Seven recalls of other offices such as Assembly and local school board members made it to the ballot, and four succeeded.
Nationally, only one governor has been recalled from office: Lynn J. Frazier of North Dakota in 1921.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Harrison Sheppard, (213) 978-0390
2 photos, box
(1 -- 2 -- color) Gov. Gray Davis, left, pumps up an anti-recall rally, with his wife, Sharon, at his side, in downtown L.A. Monday night. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and his wife, Maria Shriver, cheer with supporters at the actor's final campaign stop at San Bernardino Airport.
Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
David Creamer/Staff Photographer
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