California voters have ousted Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a history-making special recall election. Even before official election returns began to trickle in, television networks projected the recall effort aimed at ousting Democratic Governor Davis would succeed and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger would easily defeat all other challengers.
Exit poll surveys indicate that Californians had made their minds up weeks ago to oust Gray Davis and that eight in 10 state residents are dissatisfied with the state's lagging economy.
Following a concession speech from Governor Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his supporters celebrated at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. The governor-elect promised to try and bring the state together.
"The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success," he said. "Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create even deeper division and fail the people of California? Well let me tell you something, the answer is clear. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose."
The actor-turned-politician cruised to an easy victory, even though he had been put on the defensive in the final days of the campaign by charges of sexual harassment from several women. Mr. Schwarzenegger issued a blanket apology and said some of the allegations were true. But he also said most of the accusations were false and the result of what he called "dirty politics."
As for Governor Davis, exit polls indicated he was unable to overcome voter anger over California's economic and budget troubles and their demand for change.
In his concession speech, he urged Democrats to put the bitterness of the recall behind them and work with Governor-elect Schwarzenegger. "We have had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years," he said. "But tonight, the people did decide it is time for someone else to serve and I accept their judgment."
Gray Davis now becomes only the second American governor to be recalled, or removed from office by the voters. He follows in the footsteps of North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier, who was removed from office in 1921. But for Governor-elect Schwarzenegger, winning the recall election may be the easy part. Once he is sworn into office -- which should be in a matter of weeks -- it will be his responsibility to deal with California's economic problems, a state legislature controlled by Democrats and voters eager for change.
The Schwarzenegger victory could also help Republicans -- including President Bush -- become more competitive in California, which in recent years has leaned to the Democrats.