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CNN projection: Davis out, Schwarzenegger wins
( 2003-10-08 11:15) (CNN.com)

CNN projects that California's electorate will recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and choose actor-turned-politician, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Golden State's next governor, based on statewide exit polls.

Davis, re-elected to a second term less than a year ago, would become the first governor recalled from office since 1921, when North Dakota voters ousted Gov. Lynn Frazier.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California in the state's October 7, 2003 recall election according to broadcast network reports based on exit polls. Schwarzenegger is seen during campaign appearance in San Bernardino, California, October 6, 2003.  [Reuters]
The race -- borne out of voter discontent with the California economy and dissatisfaction with the incumbent Democrat's leadership -- tightened in the closing days, marked by accusations against front-running replacement candidate Schwarzenegger, and charges of ugly politics.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EDT).

"So far, at least, we've been hearing that turnout is on a par with what we've seen in some record-breaking years for governor's elections," Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said.

The respected Field Poll predicted as many as 10 million voters would cast ballots -- 30 percent more than the 7.7 million who elected the 60-year-old Democrat to a second term in November 2002 and a record in the state for a non-presidential contest.

The secretary of state's office said that based on turnout in Los Angeles and some other indicator counties, the statewide vote could be as high as 60 percent -- comparable to that of 1998, the year Davis first won election as governor. That would amount to 9.24 million of California's 15.4 registered voters this year -- about 385,000 more than were registered in 2002.

Shelley said more than 2.2 million absentee ballots have already been cast -- votes that could be critical in a close race.

Tuesday's election was the climax of one of the most bizarre episodes in recent U.S. political history. Voters decided to recall Davis and chose Schwarzenegger from among 135 names on the ballot.

Under the recall rules, a majority of votes were necessary to oust Davis, but his replacement only needed a plurality of votes.

Davis said he felt "absolutely terrific" as he cast his ballot Tuesday in West Hollywood.

"I'm proud of the campaign we've run," he said.

He urged his supporters to turn out at the polls and said the state is in good shape despite the economic problems that helped trigger the recall. He also touted his record on health care, education and the environment.

"All these things have moved this state forward, and we've moved forward together," Davis said. "That's what I want to continue to do if the people are good enough to let me do it."  

Recent polls showed a majority of likely voters favor the recall and Schwarzenegger atop the field of replacement candidates, followed by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat; and another Republican, state Sen. Tom McClintock.

"It's up to God what the decision is," Schwarzenegger told a crush of reporters after voting near his Pacific Palisades home with his wife, Maria Shriver. "We've done all the work, and we've worked hard and campaigned hard and tried to get the message out there."

McClintock, a veteran conservative, predicted an upset as he cast his ballot at a Los Angeles community center, urging voters to follow their consciences rather than last-minute handicapping. 

"People think that by voting for me, they might elect someone they don't want," he said. "My message is simply, if you vote your conscience, we'll be elected on election night."

Schwarzenegger's campaign has been rocked over the past five days by allegations from at least 15 women that he groped and sexually harassed them in incidents stretching back three decades.

Schwarzenegger has both apologized for behaving badly and disputed some of the accusations, but he has not been specific.

Women were featured prominently on the rostrum at his speeches Monday. Both Shriver and her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late President John F. Kennedy, were on hand to offer very public support.

He has also been dogged by allegations that he expressed admiration for Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in a 1975 interview, though those charges largely dissipated after two figures involved in the interview discounted them. Schwarzenegger, who, like Hitler, is a native of Austria, has vehemently denied that he ever had Nazi sympathies.

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