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As Californians Vote in Recall Elections, Schwarzenegger Leads Opinion Polls

Voters in California are casting their ballots on whether to remove Governor Gray Davis from office. Public opinion polls indicate a majority of voters are inclined to recall the governor and replace him with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

State officials say it is difficult to predict voter turnout for the special recall election. But some pollsters predicted a heavy turnout with perhaps 70 percent of California's more than 15 million registered voters casting ballots.

The major candidates all made last minute appeals to their supporters to get out and vote. Governor Davis addressed a crowd in Los Angeles, urging them to "get to work and keep working" to get out the vote.

The leading contender to replace Governor Davis is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been plagued by allegations of sexual harassment in the final days of the campaign.

He also rallied supporters on the eve of the election.

"Gray Davis has terminated opportunities and now it is time that we terminated Gray Davis," said Mr. Schwarzenegger, star of the Terminator movies.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has apologized for his past behavior but says many of the allegations against him are what he calls last minute "dirty politics."

The recall ballot is in two parts. In the first part, voters will be asked if they want to recall, or remove, Governor Davis from office. In the second part, they choose from 135 possible replacements. If a majority decides in favor of recall, the candidate on the second part of the ballot with the most votes, becomes the next governor.

Mr. Schwarzenegger may benefit from the 1.6 million absentee ballots that were cast before the sexual groping allegations surfaced last week.

The recall drama is being closely watched around the country and in Washington. President George Bush was asked at the White House about the prospect of a Schwarzenegger victory.

"If he is the governor, I will work with him. Absolutely," said Mr. Bush. "And he has obviously waged a spirited campaign and has captured a lot of people's imagination."

If Mr. Schwarzenegger does win, political experts say the actor turned politician faces the difficult task of turning around California's economy and dealing with a $38 billion budget deficit.

"He is going to have to step right in and begin developing his budget for the next year, solving the problems that people demanded him to solve," said Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe, a lecturer on politics at the University of Southern California. "He has got to put together an entire administration. It is not going to be easy for him," she told VOA-TV.

If the election is close it could take a few days to determine a winner. Even if the results are clear and Governor Davis is recalled, it still could take several days or even a few weeks for the election results to be certified before the new governor can be sworn into office.