Governor Gray Davis is asking Californians to vote down a recall effort in Tuesday's special election. Voters will decide whether to remove him, and select a replacement, if he is ousted. The race is heating up for both the governor and his rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Hollywood superstar, the governor's leading challenger, is facing new allegations daily over his past.
Thursday, the Los Angeles Times published allegations from six women who say he groped them sexually in separate incidents that spanned 25 years. Other women came forward later, and similar allegations were cited in Saturday's edition.
The actor denies some of the allegations and says others involved good-natured but rowdy behavior. He apologized to anyone he may have offended.
But after Saturday's story appeared, Mr. Schwarzenegger accused his political opponents of mounting a "smear" campaign. "Why have they not come out before?" he asked. "Why have they not called me? Why has no one every told me that, Arnold, you went too far?"
Suspicion has fallen on the Davis campaign as a possible source of the stories, although a newspaper spokesman says the stories were developed independently. Mr. Davis's wife, Sharon, tried to distance her husband from the scandal at a forum in San Diego.
"Now, it's been suggested that my husband was somehow behind these latest allegations of 11 women coming forward and talking about the improprieties that happened with their contact with Arnold Schwarzenegger," said Mrs. Davis. "We had nothing to do with it. The LA Times that reported the story made it very clear that no campaign was behind it. And so now, to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign blame my husband, is not only insulting to us, but it's insulting to the 11 women who were brave enough to come forward."
Governor Davis frequently mentions the allegations at his campaign stops.
Mr. Davis, however, is facing longstanding criticism over California's fiscal crisis, as candidate Schwarzenegger reminds voters at his rallies.
"Gray Davis is terminating business. He's terminated jobs. He's terminating dreams. He's terminating hope. And now is the time we terminate him," said the star of the Terminator movies.
Mr. Schwarzenegger has strongly refuted another allegation, that he once expressed admiration for Hitler. He says his 1975 comment was taken out of context.
But the more damaging allegations may be those involving women. Women voters are crucial in California, where they constitute just over half of the electorate, and the governor's supporters have seized on the allegations to question the actor's character and his views on women's issues. The polls that showed Mr. Schwarzenegger in the lead were taken before the string of allegations.
His wife, Maria Shriver, is appearing on the campaign trail supporting him. "He's an extraordinary father and remarkable husband, a terrific human being," she said.
Schwarzenegger aides insist that private polls commissioned by the campaign show the actor's popularity is stronger than ever. However, one newspaper, the Oakland Tribune, has withdrawn its endorsement.