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Campaigns Trade Barbs as Race Nears End

Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, campaigning the length of the state, traded bitter charges Saturday over the Republican front-runner’s treatment of women, as the controversy consumed the recall race for a third straight day.

Schwarzenegger vehemently denied the accounts from three more women, quoted Saturday in The Times, who said he had grabbed or groped them.

“The last accusations I read today,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at a Central Valley stop, are “absolutely untrue.” He accused the newspaper of being in league with Davis. Later in the day, he offered a general acknowledgment of misbehavior and apologized.

“Where I did make mistakes, or maybe I did go overboard sometimes

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Davis, seizing on the newest accusations, said the behavior -- if it occurred -- constituted a crime and suggested that a formal probe might be warranted. Electing Schwarzenegger on Tuesday “would then saddle the state with a whole ‘nother set of problems,” Davis said in Oakland.

“I urge people to think long and hard before making this choice,” the governor said.

Amid the latest back-and-forth came signs that the recall race was tightening somewhat. Just days ago it had seemed a foregone conclusion, with recall supporters holding a broad lead in polls and Schwarzenegger pulling away from the other replacement candidates.

Opinion surveys conducted over the last two days by the Davis and Schwarzenegger camps both showed support for the recall slipping, though still ahead. The surveys, along with other independent polls, also showed a slide in the actor’s favorability ratings.

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The political imperative that each man faced Saturday was illustrated by the company he kept.

To stem further erosion in support, Schwarzenegger spent the day surrounded by women, including wife Maria Shriver, who gave a spirited testimonial to him as husband and father.

Davis spent the day in the company of fellow Democrats, many of whom suddenly seemed a good deal more eager to be seen alongside him.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined Davis at an Oakland union hall, called on wayward Democrats to return to the party fold. As many as one-fourth are supporting the recall, according to opinion polls.

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“Come home,” Feinstein pleaded. “It’s unfair. It’s unjust. You will set into motion a chain of events that will hurt this state much more than you will help this state.”

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the sole major Democrat in the race to replace Davis, campaigned in San Francisco, where he toured the heavily Latino Mission District and urged voters to oppose the recall for the sake of his daughters -- a pointed reference to the accusations against Schwarzenegger.

It was not just Democrats, however, who weighed in on the controversy, hoping to exploit the revelations and turn the election in its final hours.

Stumping in San Diego, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) expressed concern about the growing number of women stepping forward to say they had been manhandled by the Hollywood star, in incidents dating from the 1970s to 2000.

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“As the number of charges multiply and as the specificity of those charges multiply it becomes a very serious matter,” said McClintock, who has stayed in the race despite strong pressure from the GOP establishment to join others united behind Schwarzenegger.

“I believe that the press and the public are still sorting through those details,” McClintock said. “But because they’re coming so late, I believe they do have to be treated very carefully and very soberly. I still am waiting to see the facts unfold.”

Other Republicans also expressed concern about the actions ascribed to Schwarzenegger.

“This is exactly why I was against the county chairmen taking a position,” said Placer County Republican Party Chairman Ken Campbell, referring to Schwarzenegger’s endorsement 10 days ago by a statewide organization of GOP leaders.

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In an unusual move, the Oakland Tribune on Saturday withdrew its endorsement of Schwarzenegger, citing the numerous accounts of abusive behavior toward women.

“By no stretch of the imagination can his groping and grabbing on ‘rowdy movie sets’ be dismissed as an isolated incident,” said an editorial in the newspaper, which recommended a “no” vote on the recall and abstaining on the second half of the ballot.

“Called a ‘sexual harasser’ by one female and a ‘predator’ by others, we can no longer in good conscience recommend him for governor,” the newspaper said.

Privately, strategists for the actor conceded that the race was tightening a bit, but expressed confidence that Schwarzenegger would prevail Tuesday.

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Counterparts in the Davis camp agreed that the governor remained an underdog but said the odd nature of the bifurcated ballot gave them a glimmer of hope.

“If it was a pure choice on Arnold, it would be over,” said one Davis strategist, admitting that the governor remains hugely unpopular. “If it was a pure choice on Gray, it would be over the other way.”

Schwarzenegger’s vehement denials of any wrongdoing were a departure from the way he handled the first batch of revelations, which surfaced Thursday. He apologized then for having sometimes “behaved badly” around women and insisted he would champion their cause as governor.

In contrast, on Saturday he started out by denouncing the latest accounts of lewd behavior as patently untrue and asked why his accusers had not stepped forward sooner.

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“Why have they not come out before?” he asked reporters. “Why have they not called me? Why has nobody ever told me, ‘Arnold, you went too far.’ Because if someone says that to me, I would apologize immediately. Because that is not my intent. This all politics ... the dirty, dirty politics. That is what this is.”

He accused The Times of working with Davis to defeat his bid for governor.

“I think that it’s part of the puke campaign that Davis launched now,” Schwarzenegger said. “I mean, he’s frantic and he’s consistently pounding away, trying to dig up things way back and accusations.”

He repeated his Friday denunciations of Adolf Hitler and suggested that the “Nazi stuff” along with the “women’s stuff ... any of those kinds of things, it is all about trying to attack me, so I don’t win and become the next governor of California.”

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Reports in the New York Times and ABC News had suggested that Schwarzenegger, during his bodybuilding days, had expressed admiration for Hitler; others said the comments had been wrenched out of context.

As he traveled up the spine of the state on the third day of his campaign-bus caravan, the women surrounding Schwarzenegger offered an unspoken rejection of the charges swirling about him.

More than a dozen women stood behind him on the stage at a food packing plant in Clovis, his first stop of the day.

A banner read, “Women Joining Arnold”; the candidate was introduced by his wife, who did not mention the newspaper reports but warmly testified to his character.

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“I’ve known this man for 26 years,” Shriver said. “I’ve been married to him for 17. “He’s an extraordinary father, a remarkable husband, a terrific human being. He has the character to be governor, the temperament to be governor, and he is a leader for all of you.”

Throughout the day, Schwarzenegger stuck to core themes in addressing overflow audiences. He promised to free the state from the control of special interests and stop the loss of jobs.

“Businesses are leaving the state,” he told a crowd of more than 4,000 in suburban Pleasanton, east of Oakland. “They’re seeing the American dream slipping away from them. All because of the Davis administration. Davis has terminated jobs, terminated businesses, terminated opportunities. And now it is time we terminate him.”

Campaign aides, meanwhile, took aim at The Times, accusing the paper of “gutter, yellow journalism” and a bias “never before seen in this state by a major newspaper.”

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“If the Los Angeles Times had ever even dedicated a half of the resources they dedicated to this story to following the scandal-ridden Davis administration, maybe we would truly know if Gray Davis should have been taken out of office for criminal reasons,” said spokesman Rob Stutzman.

In response, newspaper spokeswoman Martha Goldstein said the paper had “written comprehensive articles” critical of Davis and other replacement candidates.

Despite the seriousness of the women’s charges and the threat they posed to his campaign, Schwarzenegger managed to find a bit of levity.

After downing a protein burger --without a bun -- at an In-N-Out restaurant in Merced, the actor received a warm hug from a local woman.

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Schwarzenegger laughed and told her, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Otherwise it will be in the paper again.”

Campaigning in the Bay Area, a more serious Davis suggested that a police investigation into the actor’s behavior might be warranted.

“I believe authorities should do their job,” the governor told reporters as he launched his own three-day wrap-up swing with a stop in Oakland. “They should review all facts. On the completion of that review, if they think a crime was committed, then they should follow through.”

Davis was joined at his Oakland rally by some of California’s most prominent Democratic officials -- including Feinstein, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Arianna Huffington, a recent dropout as a non-partisan candidate in the replacement race.

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Schwarzenegger’s alleged actions toward women were a theme throughout.

“We’re tired of his lies,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, referring to Schwarzenegger. “And, hey, we’re tired of his groping!”

Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, the author of a workplace sexual harassment bill that Davis signed into law Friday, derisively referred to Schwarzenegger as the “Grope-inator,” to hoots and jeers.

Even Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown -- Davis’ boss when Brown was governor in the 1970s -- turned out to offer some rare comments of support for his former chief of staff.

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“We can’t let Gray Davis down!” Brown told the crowd. “We can’t let ourselves down! We have to defeat this recall and keep moving ahead!”

On the Republican side, meantime, McClintock worked to coax his supporters to the polls in characteristically low-key fashion.

“This campaign ultimately will not be carried by glitzy commercials or Hollywood stage productions,” McClintock told an audience of about 40 volunteers at a morning rally in San Diego. “It will be carried by the simple process of neighbors talking to neighbors. It will be settled over coffee at Starbucks and over people’s backyard fences and over people’s dinner tables.”

“And if every person who believes I would do the best job as governor would actually vote for me, the polls are very clear I would win in a landslide.”

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Hours later, McClintock, Bustamante and Green Party hopeful Peter Camejo formed a chorus criticizing Schwarzenegger during a candidates debate at San Diego State.

“He’s a predator,” Camejo said. “If he was a black man, he’d be in a jail. The issue needs to be looked into and resolved.”

Before they took the stage, Davis’ wife, Sharon, appeared solo for 20 minutes. She said her husband had no connection to the scandal.

“We had nothing to do with this,” Davis said. “The L.A. Times ... made it very clear that no campaign was behind it. So now to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign blame my husband is not only insulting to us, but it’s insulting to the 11 women who were brave enough to come forward.”

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Times staff writers Matea Gold, Scott Martelle and Daryl Kelley contributed to this report.


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