Voters in the western state of California decide today whether to remove Governor Gray Davis from office in a special recall election. The leading contender to replace Governor Davis is actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is trying to keep his lead in the polls, despite being dogged by allegations of sexual harassment.
Talk to Californians, and you quickly get the idea a lot of them are angry about the state's economic and budget troubles, and are eager for a change. On Tuesday, voters are being asked whether they want to recall, or remove, Governor Davis from office, and which of the 135 candidates on the ballot they would like to see as his replacement.
Dwayne Smith says he will vote to recall Gray Davis and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Well, you know, it's like they always say, the leader has the bully pulpit," says Mr. Smith. "He can get the people behind him. If the people are behind him, they are the ones who elect the legislature.
Karen Schumacher is looking for change in California, and thinks Mr. Schwarzenegger will be better able to resist pressure from special interest groups than Governor Davis. "I think, because he is going to do good for California, and we need to get rid of Gray Davis, who has too many special interests that he wants to take care of," she says. "And, I don't think Arnold, at this point anyway, has any special interests."
California is one of 18 states that permits the recall of elected officials, provided enough voters sign petitions demanding a special recall election. Some experts believe a successful recall effort in California could encourage disgruntled voters in other states.
But the attempt to recall Governor Davis has outraged many Democrats. Governor Davis was re-elected to a four-year term less than a year ago, and Democratic activist Veita Jones sees the recall as a Republican power grab. "No recall!," she says. "I think it is just a ploy to get the Republicans in power in California, and we will not stand for it."
Other Davis supporters acknowledge that the governor has done a poor job of connecting with voters. But Robert Warnagieris, an independent, says too many voters seem anxious to blame all of California's budget and economic problems on Governor Davis. "The problems that we have aren't all of Gray Davis's doing. In fact, some of them came under Republican administrations, like deregulation," he says.
In the final days of the recall campaign, the Schwarzenegger camp was shaken by allegations from several women that the actor sexually groped them, or otherwise made unwelcome sexual advances, dating from the 1970's to as recently as three years ago.
Among those who came forward is Gail Escobar. She says Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to rape her 25 years ago, when she was 16-years-old, while one of his body-building buddies held her down. "I never came forward before because, as a celebrity, Arnold was not a threat to me," she says. "But to think of him being in the governor's office is a tremendous threat to me as a woman, a worker, a mother and a wife."
Mr. Schwarzenegger says some of the allegations against him are true, and has issued a blanket apology to anyone who may have been offended by what he calls his "rowdy behavior on movie sets" over the years. But he says most of the allegations are not true, and amount to what he calls "dirty politics" in the final days of the recall campaign.
In his final appearances around the state, Mr. Schwarzenegger surrounded himself with women supporters, including the actress Tia Carrera. "I want to tell you that I worked with him on a film, "True Lies." I sat on his lap," says Ms. Carrera. "I had a kissing scene with him, and he was never anything but a gentleman."
Some late public opinion polls suggest the race has tightened in the wake of the sexual harassment charges. Governor Davis has seized on the issue to question Arnold Schwarzenegger's fitness to succeed him as California's chief executive. "These accusations, if true, are disturbing, and raise serious questions about whether Mr. Schwarzenegger should be California's governor," he says.
As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he remained focused on his message of change in the final hours of the recall campaign, and tried to keep the distraction of the sexual harassment allegations to a minimum. "That we, together, will do great things," he says. "Thank you very much and God bless all of you. Thank you. I'll be back!"