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California picks actor as next governor
( 2003-10-08 13:52) (Agencies)

In a stunning end to an often surreal election, California voters decisively swept out incumbent Gov. Gray Davis and anointed actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger his successor, according to statewide exit polls.

Republican governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver wave to their supporters before his acceptance speech in Los Angeles October 7, 2003.[Reuters]

"We've had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years, but tonight the people did decide that it's time for someone else to serve and I accept their judgment," Davis said shortly after calling Schwarzenegger to congratulate him on this victory.

Despite recent reports that Schwarzenegger, 56, allegedly groped and sexually harassed at least 15 women, exit polls showed that roughly 47 percent of female voters backed the Austrian-born actor. Men voted heavily for Schwarzenegger, according to these exit polls.

A whopping 72 percent of those who voted Tuesday said they disapproved of Davis' job performance, according to the exit polls, with only 27 percent giving the incumbent a positive approval rating.

Davis, 60, re-elected to a second term less than a year ago, will become the first governor recalled from office since 1921, when North Dakota voters ousted Gov. Lynn Frazier.

Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born bodybuilder who has never before held public office, defeated 134 other candidates on the ballot -- ranging from veteran politicians to sitcom stars to a pornography magnate.

His closest competitor, Democrat Cruz Bustamante, will remain in office as California's lieutenant governor under Schwarzenegger.

While 52 percent of Latinos voted for Bustamante, the state's top Hispanic official, a strong 30 percent backed Schwarzenegger, according to exit polls. The same polls found that a majority of Latinos -- 53 percent -- voted "no" on the recall.

The winning candidate assumes office within 10 days of the official vote certification, which must be done by November 15, according to the state elections code.

Election officials reported heavy turnout throughout the day, in addition to more than 2.2 million previously cast absentee ballots, said California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

"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," Shelley said. 

Tuesday's election was the climax of one of the most bizarre episodes in recent U.S. political history.

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

Davis had 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. 

But polls consistently evidenced Californians' contempt for Davis. "People were angry at the governor," Art Torres, chairman of the state's Democratic party, said in explaining the results.

Recent polls showed a majority of likely voters favored the recall and put Schwarzenegger atop the field of replacement candidates, followed by Bustamante 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. 

But McClintock conceded defeat to Schwarzenegger less than an hour after polls closed and cast the day's events as a win for the state.

"This is a great day for California," McClintock said. "On this day, in response to a common danger, the people of California rose to their duties as citizens."

In a speech late Tuesday, Bustamante barely touched on the recall race, but instead celebrated the defeat of Proposition 54, a ballot measure that would have prohibited the state from collecting data about race.

The proposition will be shot down by a 2-to-1 margin, according to CNN estimates.

But the day's biggest winner was Schwarzenegger, set to become the chief executive of America's largest state with the world's fifth largest economy.

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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