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California Recall Contest Increasingly Focused on Davis, Schwarzenegger - 2003-09-29


With one week remaining before California's recall election against Governor Gray Davis, the candidates are getting out their messages on the campaign trail and on television. One-hundred-33 contenders are in the race to replace Mr. Davis. But the contest is increasingly focused on two men, the governor and challenger Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The latest poll, released Sunday, shows that 63 percent of Californians want to remove Governor Davis from office. The survey by CNN, the newspaper USA Today and the Gallup organization says 40 percent of voters back the actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a replacement. His closest competitor, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, lags 15 percent behind, with 25 percent support. Mr. Schwarzenegger's fellow Republican, State Senator Tom McClintock, had the support of 18 percent of voters.

The poll was taken after a heavily watched debate September 24 that featured five major contenders for the governor's job. Supporters of Governor Davis question the poll results, citing surveys that show Mr. Davis gaining ground.

All of the candidates are now in high gear for the last full week of the campaign. Sunday, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke at a rally in Santa Maria in northern California. "This is now hand-to-hand combat. We are in the trenches. This is war. We have to fight this war together," he said.

The battle is taking place partly over the airwaves. The Davis campaign has released new ads that focus their criticism on Mr. Schwarzenegger.

"He ducks tough questions, didn't vote in 13 of the last 21 elections, and now, he refuses to debate the governor he's trying to replace."

Earlier, it was Mr. Davis who refused to debate his challengers. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in one debate with other recall candidates, but now the governor is challenging him to square off (debate) on the "Larry King Live" show on CNN television. Mr. Schwarzenegger says he will not.

But he's getting his message out through television ads.

"Special interests have a stranglehold on Sacramento. Here's how it works. Money comes in, favors go out, the people lose. We need to send a message: Game over."

Democrat Cruz Bustamante is also spending heavily on television ads, which say the actor-politician is out of touch with the voters.

"He doesn't live in our world. He lives on Planet Hollywood."

The Schwarzenegger campaign was cheered by the latest polling numbers, but the outcome of the election will be determined by who turns out to vote. Analysts say the candidate who effectively mobilizes supporters will be successful.

Mr. Schwarzenegger says he is not taking anything for granted. "For me, this is an important week coming up now, going up and down the state, reaching out to the people and letting them know what my vision is because people basically want leadership," he says.

Republican Tom McClintock has refused to drop out of the race, despite the pleas of party members who urge a unified vote behind Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. McClintock, a conservative Republican, calls himself the only candidate who pledges never to raise taxes.

California voters will go to the polls October 7.

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