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Polls Show Schwarzenegger Leader in California Governor Campaign - 2003-10-03

Public opinion polls suggest actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger could be the next governor of California. Several recent polls indicate a majority of voters are prepared to recall, or remove, the incumbent governor, Democrat Gray Davis, and replace him with Republican candidate Schwarzenegger.

National correspondent Jim Malone has spent some time with the Schwarzenegger campaign and he has a report.

The crowd has been gathering in Arcadia, north of Los Angeles, for two hours. But the long wait has not dampened their enthusiasm for the man they like to call The Terminator.

With perfect Hollywood timing, the actor turned candidate arrives and the show begins. "You know, they told me that there would be a few hundred people here," he says. "I see a few thousand! Thank you all for coming out here!"

A few months ago, most people would have found it difficult to believe that movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the verge of becoming the next governor of California.

But the man better known for his action film roles than policy positions has proven to be a quick study and has readily tapped into voter anger over high taxes and the perception that special interests have too much power in California.

"People are fed up with politics," he says. "They think it is all dirty money, then closed doors and backroom deals," says Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We have to bring the confidence back. We have to make sure that people can believe again in the government. And that is what I want to do when I go up there to Sacramento [State capital]. I want to clean house up there."

Michael is among the few thousand who went to work late so that he could hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in person. He wasn't disappointed. "He has got to clean house up there [in the state capitol]," he says. "There is so much corruption, the finances are just hemorrhaging and somebody has got to be sent up there to put a stop to it. Like a new sheriff in town. That is going to be Arnold."

For Sergio Ballderama, the big issue is high taxes. He says he will leave the state unless they come down and he sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as the only candidate who could make that happen. "As a Californian and being taxed to death, I think he has a lot of relief for us," he says. "And that is one thing that I am looking at because I have considered leaving this state if taxes continue the way they do, and I will leave. So for the time being, I will see what he can do."

But in the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Schwarzenegger has been put on the defensive over allegations that he once made favorable comments about Adolph Hitler and that he sexually groped several women, dating from the 1970s to as recently as three years ago.

Gail Escobar is 41 now. She was 16 years old when she says that Arnold and some of his body-building buddies threatened to rape her in a parking garage. "What would I say to Arnold now? He deserves to go to prison," she says. "And that he does not deserve to be in any political office and that I would be ashamed to have someone like him representing my state."

There was no immediate response from the Schwarzenegger campaign on Ms. Escobar's comments.

Women's groups in California are outraged over the allegations and have demanded a criminal investigation.

Governor Davis says the comments about Hitler and the sexual misconduct allegations raise questions about Arnold Schwarzenegger's character and that it is now up to the voters to decide his fitness for office.

Mr. Schwarzenegger now says Hitler was, in his words, "a disgusting villain." He also says most of the allegations concerning improper sexual behavior are false and he has issued a blanket apology to anyone who may have been offended by his behavior on movie sets over the years.

But when he appears before supporters now, Mr. Schwarzenegger is quick to try and shift the focus of his campaign back to the cause of removing Governor Davis. "They try to tear your character down and everything you stand for," he says. "And let me tell you something, they have already begun. But I, I will stay focused. I will always stay focused because the fight continues."

The recall election will be held Tuesday. In the first part of the ballot, voters will be asked whether they want to recall Governor Davis. If a simple majority agrees, he will be removed from office.

In the second part of the ballot, voters will choose from among 135 candidates. But the latest polls indicate Mr. Schwarzenegger has a healthy lead over Democrat Cruz Bustamante, California's lieutenant governor.