The countdown is under way in California's recall race against Democratic Governor Gray Davis. Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger is deflecting allegations about his past, as the most recent polling numbers show him leading the field of contenders.

A poll released Friday by the Field Organization shows that 57 percent of likely California voters want to remove Gray Davis from office, and a plurality wants Arnold Schwarzenegger as a replacement. The actor-politician had the support of 36 percent of voters in the survey, holding a 10 percent lead over his closest rival, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. Republican Tom McClintock trailed with 16 percent support.

In the final days of the campaign, Mr. Schwarzenegger has been targeted with a barrage of criticism, first stemming from a story in Thursday's Los Angeles Times that says he sexually groped six women over the years. He admitted that some of it may have been true and said he was "deeply sorry."

Later, the Austrian-born actor countered a charge that in the 1970s, he had expressed admiration for Hitler. He emphatically denied it saying, "I think Hitler was a disgusting villain, dictator, and he's caused so much harm in the world, and we have to make sure that it never happens again." A coalition of liberal women's groups has seized on the allegations of sexual misconduct, and sponsored a commercial that will run on television in the days before the election. The ad is aimed at women. "You cannot vote for this man because Arnold Schwarzenegger has a serious problem with women," the ad says.

Friday a woman who says the actor threatened to rape her 25 years ago spoke with reporters in Los Angeles at a Schwarzenegger rally. Marjorie Sims of the California Women's Law Center accompanied the woman, and said they want an investigation by Los Angeles authorities.

"If there is an investigation, it gives Mr. Schwarzenegger an opportunity to have those claims dismissed, if it's really true. If he says that it's just unruly behavior and not sexual battery, an investigation will prove that out," she said.

In comments to reporters, the candidate called the allegations "trash" campaigning.

Governor Davis has a reputation as an aggressive and negative campaigner, but he took pains to deny that his campaign had originated the stories. He says, however, the allegations raise questions about Mr. Schwarzenegger's character. Mr. Davis spoke on ABC television's Good Morning America program.

"I know the voters have a big decision to make in five days," said Mr. Davis speaking on ABC television's Good Morning America program. "I'm confident that they'll make a judgement about Mr. Schwarzenegger's fitness to hold office."

Voters will make their decision October 7.