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At Wire, Recall Race Tightens Up

Times Staff Writers

With polls showing the recall race tightening in a last dash to Tuesday’s election, Gov. Gray Davis on Sunday questioned the truthfulness of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s response to sexual misconduct allegations while the Republican tried to shift the focus to his rival’s shortcomings as a leader.

Davis challenged the GOP candidate to respond in detail to accusations by women that he groped or humiliated them. Schwarzenegger, dogged by the allegations for the fourth day, sought to lay them to rest in two nationally televised interviews.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 11, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Schwarzenegger quote -- Because of an inaccurate transcript from NBC News, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s response to a question posed by Tom Brokaw was incorrectly reported in articles in Monday’s Section A. To the question “So you deny all those stories about grabbing?” Schwarzenegger said, “No, not all.” The stories quoted Schwarzenegger as saying “not at all.”

“A lot of these are made-up stories,” Schwarzenegger told NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw in a campaign-bus interview on “Dateline NBC.” “I never grabbed anyone and then pulled up their shirt and grabbed their breasts, and stuff like that. This is not me. So there’s a lot of this stuff going on.... “

“So you deny all those stories about grabbing?” Brokaw asked.

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“Not at all,” said Schwarzenegger, who apologized Thursday for having “behaved badly sometimes” toward women. “I’m just saying this is not -- this is not me.”

Campaign spokesman Sean Walsh would not clarify whether Schwarzenegger had ever groped women in the ways they had described. Schwarzenegger did not respond to a request made through Walsh for an interview.

As Davis and Schwarzenegger made their respective pitches to voters, the other major candidates tried to draw attention to their own candidacies.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat in the replacement race, kept on the offensive against Schwarzenegger. Fighting to regain the lead he once held, he said the women’s accusations showed Schwarzenegger was unfit to govern California.

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“First there were three, then five, then six, then nine, then 11 and now 15,” Bustamante said at a Gardena labor gathering. “You know, after a while, these start to sort of depersonalize, start to sound like numbers. These are not numbers. These are women, women who were harassed in the workplace.”

The other major Republican contender, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), muted his criticism of Schwarzenegger, the favorite candidate of California’s GOP establishment. Nonetheless, with polls showing damage to Schwarzenegger’s campaign since Thursday, McClintock tried to persuade voters who fear he is too conservative to win that he actually has a shot. “If everybody who believes I’d do the best job actually votes for me, we would win in a landslide,” he said on CNN.

While all the candidates pressed arguments that they have made for weeks on taxes, abortion and other issues, the sexual misconduct allegations remained the central focus for the Davis and Schwarzenegger campaigns.

Only five days ago, Schwarzenegger and his advisors were announcing plans for his first 100 days in office while Davis forces were bracing for imminent defeat. But private polls taken by both campaigns Friday and Saturday night found support for the recall slipping, Schwarzenegger’s lead over Bustamante narrowing and more voters now viewing the actor unfavorably than favorably.

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Davis, buoyed by the eleventh-hour shift in momentum, raised the accusations against Schwarzenegger on Sunday morning at a Los Angeles hospital, where he signed a bill requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage to more than 1 million workers.

“These accusations, if true, are very disturbing and raise serious questions about whether Mr. Schwarzenegger should be California’s governor,” Davis said. “I believe Mr. Schwarzenegger should deal with these accusations in detail, not through partial explanations, evasive answers and partial denials. The question gets down to this: Are all 15 women and their families lying or is Mr. Schwarzenegger not telling us the truth?”

After signing the health insurance bill, Davis flew to San Jose for an afternoon rally before a spirited crowd of several hundred at a union hall. With farm labor leader Dolores Huerta at his side, he took credit for providing scholarships to 300,000 students and health insurance for 1 million children. Davis called the recall a “redo” of the November election, in which he defeated GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr. “We won; they lost,” he said. “They don’t like it. I understand it. But we have to protect the integrity of the electoral process.”

Davis used a line that has won cheers throughout the campaign, arguing that if he were ousted for the state’s fiscal problems, then 47 other governors and President Bush should be recalled for their budget deficits. “Recall Bush! Recall Bush!” the crowd chanted. If allowed to finish his term, Davis said, he would “focus like a laser on trying to improve the economy,” improve public education and work to lower health-care costs, “particularly prescription drugs.”

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The Davis campaign also released a new television ad featuring U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who tells viewers the recall race is “turning around.” “People are beginning to see how unfair it is, and how harmful it is to California’s economy and to our people, and in recent days serious allegations have surfaced with respect to the governor’s opponent,” she says in the ad.

Schwarzenegger’s main public event Sunday was a Sacramento rally at the state Capitol, but he used network television interviews to respond to Davis’ charges. On the ABC News show “This Week,” anchor Peter Jennings asked Schwarzenegger to clarify which allegations he denied and which ones he could not remember.

“It doesn’t make any sense to go through details here with you,” Schwarzenegger replied.

He said no woman had ever told him, “I don’t want you to do that. You went over the line.”

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“Now,” he added, “all of a sudden, isn’t it odd that three days and four days before the campaign, all of a sudden all these women want to have an apology?”

On Thursday, The Times published a story in which six women said that Schwarzenegger had touched them in a sexual manner without their consent. All of the women were contacted by The Times and did not come forward on their own. None were associated with any of the campaigns.

Schwarzenegger apologized Thursday morning for unspecified misconduct toward women, saying he had meant to be “playful,” but was “deeply sorry” for offending anyone and would champion the cause of women if elected governor. Since then, nine more women have come forward with accusations that Schwarzenegger grabbed or groped them. Despite apologizing again on Saturday, Schwarzenegger has cast the accusations as part of a Davis smear. “Gray Davis is running a dirty campaign,” he told Brokaw. “This is all part of it. You know, he’s always been known for that.”

When Brokaw -- like Jennings -- asked for a response to the specific allegations, Schwarzenegger answered: “Gov. Davis owes the people of California an apology for what he has done to this state. He owes them an explanation. He should talk to the people of California, because what he has done to this state is terrible.”

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“You’re not going to be any more specific about these charges in terms of your denials?” Brokaw asked.

“As soon as the campaign is over,” Schwarzenegger said, “I can get into all of the specifics and find out what is really going on, but right now I’m just really occupied with the campaign.”

In the interview with Jennings, Schwarzenegger also was asked about allegations that he said in the 1970s that he admired Adolf Hitler. The Austrian-born candidate, a longtime supporter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, reiterated that he “despised anything that Hitler stood for and what the Nazis stood for.”

“I’m very sensitive about it because I come from a country where we had a history of that,” said Schwarzenegger, whose father was a Nazi. “You know, people came up to me many times when I came over here with the ‘Heil Hitler’ signs.”

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He recalled that he successfully sued a newspaper for alleging that he admired Hitler. The News of the World, a British newspaper, apologized to Schwarzenegger and paid undisclosed damages and legal costs under a 1989 court settlement. The candidate’s purported comments about Hitler were in an unpublished book proposal made public Thursday. The author, George Butler, released a statement Friday saying the comments attributed to Schwarzenegger were “not in context and not even strictly accurate.”

Schwarzenegger concluded the final leg of his four-day “California Comeback Express” bus tour Sunday in Sacramento. At a minor league baseball field, he pulled up in his bus, named after his movie “The Running Man.” He introduced Brokaw to the crowd of several hundred people and asked them to cheer.

From the ball field, Schwarzenegger, riding shotgun on the bus, waved to people gathered along the mile-and-a-half route to the state Capitol; he led a caravan of antique cars and flat-bed trucks carrying bails of hay. Outside the Capitol, Schwarzenegger spoke at a raucous rally of 5,000 supporters. “We’re missing leadership,” he said of California. “What we need again is like in the ‘60s, when John F. Kennedy said we have to have a man on the moon, and the next thing you knew there was a man on the moon. Or when Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s said America is a shining city on a hill.”

He renewed his pledges not to raise taxes, cut education or spend beyond the state’s means. To illustrate his vow to “clean house” in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger held aloft a broom. “Special interests are going to go crazy because they know I’m here to kick some serious butt,” he said. “When they start trying to push me around, I will push back.”

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After his speech, Schwarzenegger played a few riffs on an electric guitar as Dee Snider of the Twisted Sister rock band sang his campaign anthem, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Mingling with the cheering crowd of supporters were Schwarzenegger opponents. Protesters nearly drowned out the early part of Schwarzenegger’s nine-minute speech with a steady chorus of boos. One man yelled through a bullhorn: “Hey Arnold, what do you say? How many women have you assaulted today?”

After the rally, Schwarzenegger met with Republican lawmakers inside the Capitol. He also signed autographs and posed for photographs with three security men running the X-ray machine at an entrance. For his part, Bustamante, while continuing to argue that Schwarzenegger’s mistreatment of women made him unfit to be governor, also sought to cut through the swirling controversy by laying out his own rationale for seeking the governor’s job.

“The reason for it is because we have strong values of defending a woman’s right to choose and protecting our coastline and helping working families and small business people,” Bustamante said on CNN.

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Bustamante also tried to fight the perception that the recall race had boiled down to a contest between Davis and Schwarzenegger, saying even the latest polls fail to reflect “the full effect of all the revelations.”

The lieutenant governor, however, also emphasized his role as a Democratic backup in the event that Davis loses the recall race. “I am a safety net candidate,” Bustamante said. “I am a positive option on the second part of the ballot.”

McClintock was more circumspect about the accusations against Schwarzenegger. He called the groping charges “disturbing” and the accusation that Schwarzenegger had admired Hitler “shocking.” But McClintock said he was “very skeptical of character attacks on candidates made in the final days of a campaign.”

“People are saying, ‘McClintock is qualified, McClintock would do the best job,’ ” he said on CNN. “We’re just not able to translate that into votes. So my messages to folks over the final few days of this campaign is: It’s OK to vote your conscience.”

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McClintock, the most conservative of the major contenders, described himself as the only candidate who signed a pledge not to raise taxes and the only one who supports Proposition 54, a measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would bar the state from tracking many statistics by race.

In an interview with The Times, McClintock also raised questions about Davis’ temperament. “I saw him erupt in a symphony of obscenities in a Republican caucus meeting about two years ago,” McClintock said. “Every person in that room was absolutely shocked by his behavior.”

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


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