Published October 7, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Californians banished Gov. Gray Davis just 11 months into his second term and elected action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him last night - a Hollywood ending to one of the most extraordinary political melodramas in the nation's history.
Voters traded a career Democratic politician who became one of the state's most despised chief executives for a moderate Republican megastar who had never before run for office. Davis became the first California governor pried from office and only the second nationwide to be recalled.
Early tallies showed the recall favored by 1,019,874 voters, or 57.5 percent, and opposed by 755,375, or 42.6 percent.
Other early returns had Schwarzenegger ahead with 862,217 votes; Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante with 482,376; Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock with 200,970; and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo with 25,916.
Schwarzenegger prevailed despite a flurry of negative publicity in the campaign's final days, surviving allegations that he had groped women and accusations that as a young man he expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.
The 56-year-old Austrian immigrant - husband of television journalist Maria Shriver - finds himself in charge of the nation's most populated state with an economy surpassed only by those of several countries.
Schwarzenegger promised to return the shine to a Golden State beset by massive budget problems and riven by deep political divisions.
Voters faced two questions - whether to recall Davis, and who among the other candidates should replace him if he was removed. They chose to get rid of the incumbent and put Schwarzenegger in his place.
About seven in 10 voters interviewed in exit polls said they had made up their minds how they would vote on the recall question more than a month before the election.
Long lines were reported at polling places through the day. By late afternoon, Terri Carbaugh, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said a turnout of 60 percent appeared likely, higher than the 50.7 percent who voted in last November's gubernatorial election. It would be the highest percentage to vote in a gubernatorial election since 1982.
Re-elected last year with less than 50 percent of the vote, Davis fell victim to a groundswell of discontent in a state that has struggled with its perilous financial condition.
As colorless as his name, Davis was also known as a canny politician with sharp elbows. Once chief of staff to Gov. Jerry Brown, he rose through the political ranks as a state assemblyman, state controller and lieutenant governor, before becoming governor in 1999.
By contrast, Schwarzenegger's political inexperience seemed a virtue to many voters.
The actor's improbable rise to political power played out before a rapt international audience. He announced his candidacy in August on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" after aides said it was certain he wouldn't run.
Other major candidates seeking to replace Davis were the Democratic lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, conservative Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.
The campaign included a parade of bit players among the 135 candidates, including Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, former child actor Gary Coleman, a publicity-hungry porn actress who wanted to tax breast implants and an artist who dressed in all blue and described his candidacy as the ultimate piece of performance art.
The cast of characters and outsized ballot gave the campaign a carnival-like atmosphere and provided late-night comics with a stream of material.
But to many Californians, it was serious business.
"I'm horrified at the thought that Schwarzenegger can be our governor," said Gretchen Purser, 25, of Berkeley, who voted against recall. "I'm sick of Republicans trying to take over the state."
Ed Troupe, 69, of Thousand Oaks, voted yes for recall and for Schwarzenegger. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "Gray Davis is one of the dirtiest politicians I've ever encountered." Though Schwarzenegger held a commanding lead over his rivals going into the final week, his campaign was shaken by allegations published in the Los Angeles Times days before the election from six women who said he groped them or made unwanted sexual advances. Allegations continued to surface over the weekend, and by election day 16 women had come forward.
Schwarzenegger also was confronted with reports that he had praised Hitler as a young man - accusations he disputed.