Arnold Schwarzenegger won the historic California recall election Tuesday as a tide of voter anger toppled Gray Davis just 11 months after the Democrat had been reelected governor.
In a popular revolt unmatched in the 92 years that Californians have held the power to recall elected officials, voters chose a Republican film star with no government experience to replace an incumbent steeped for three decades in state politics.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, finished second to Schwarzenegger, while state Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican, came in third.
A jubilant Schwarzenegger greeted hundreds of cheering supporters Tuesday night in a Century City ballroom. After an introduction by “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, Schwarzenegger thanked California for entrusting him with the state’s highest public office and vowed “to live up to that trust.”
“I will not fail you,” he told the crowd. “I will not disappoint you, and I will not let you down.”
After a recall campaign that sharply polarized the California electorate, Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, was at his side, vowed to reach out to political adversaries.
“The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success,” he said. “Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight among ourselves, create an even deeper division, and fail the people of California? Well, let me tell you something: the answer is clear. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose.”
Davis, the first California governor to be recalled and only the second in the nation’s history, conceded defeat shortly before Schwarzenegger’s victory speech.
“Tonight the voters decided it’s time for someone else to serve,” he told dejected supporters packed into a downtown Los Angeles hotel ballroom.
Davis was composed on stage, even as his wife, Sharon, dabbed at her eyes and struggled to smile.
“I told my mother and my wife before we came out here that this is a no-crying zone on this stage. They can cry later tonight,” Davis said with a smile.
As his supporters raucously booed the results of the special election, Davis urged them to move forward. As some in the crowd began to call for a recall of Governor-elect Schwarzenegger, Davis reminded them that “no recall” had been their message for that night. “Now I have a different message for you,” he said. “I’m calling for everyone in this state to put the chaos and the division of the recall behind us and do what’s right for this great state of California.”
For Schwarzenegger, the electoral triumph capped an extraordinary nine-week sprint to public office. Thanks largely to his worldwide fame, the action-film hero best known as the menacing “Terminator” robot attracted a flood of international media coverage to the compressed campaign.
For the last six days of the race, allegations that Schwarzenegger had groped and humiliated women threatened to derail his candidacy. But in the end, voters irked at Davis rallied behind the former champion bodybuilder. Despite misgivings about Schwarzenegger’s lack of experience in public office, voters saw him above all as a strong leader, a quality they had long found absent in Davis, according to public opinion surveys.
The national implications of Schwarzenegger’s victory were quickly apparent. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate who hopes the same popular anger that propelled the recall will fuel his own candidacy, said Californians had vented “their frustration with the country’s direction.”
“Come next November, that anger might be directed at a different incumbent ... in the White House,” Dean said in a statement.
National television networks called the election seconds after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Surveys of voters leaving the polls had shown the recall passing and Schwarzenegger leading the field of 135 candidates vying to succeed Davis.
The election that has captured the attention of the nation -- and much of the world -- drew a heavy voter turnout, officials said. The secretary of state’s office projected turnout at 60% of registered voters. That would put it well above the record low of 51% set in November, when Davis won reelection, but short of the 71% seen in the last presidential election.
Despite long lines at many polling places, initial reports suggested that fears of a chaotic election with millions of voters baffled by the 135-candidate replacement ballot were not borne out.
In parts of California, the election produced at least some confusion among voters over how and where to cast ballots. That was largely because some of the state’s 58 counties -- including the most populous, Los Angeles -- opened far fewer polling places than for a normal election.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s office dispatched more than 50 troubleshooters to the six counties that hauled out their obsolete punch-card voting machines for one last election.
In East Los Angeles, 116 people had voted by 9 a.m. at El Siloe Apostolic Church. All morning, a steady influx kept the line 10 voters deep at the check-in table.
“This is more people than I’ve ever seen before,” said poll worker Isabel Zamora, an election volunteer since John F. Kennedy was on the ballot for president.
In Sacramento, Bustamante conceded defeat Tuesday evening, but his speech was quickly yanked from national television when Schwarzenegger began speaking from Los Angeles.
“We didn’t get the rest of the results that we were hoping for, or that we wanted,” Bustamante said. “Let me say this: we did not fail. I may not be moving across the hall to the governor’s office, but I’m not going anywhere.”
It was Bustamante’s second speech of the evening. Earlier, he hailed the defeat of Proposition 54, a ballot measure that would have barred state collection or use of many racial and ethnic statistics.
“This is a dramatic victory,” he said. “It marks a dramatic turnaround. Finally, California is saying, ‘No more wedge politics.’”
The Fresno-area native, who would have been California’s first Latino governor in more than a century, went on to thank at length several Indian tribal governments that gave millions of dollars to his campaign and the drive to defeat Prop. 54.
McClintock, at another Sacramento hotel, acknowledged his loss and pledged his “wholehearted support” to Schwarzenegger.
” I believe our campaign acted as the conscience of this election, and we framed the issues upon which this contest was ultimately decided,” he told cheering supporters.
Earlier, McClintock, Schwarzenegger’s persistent GOP rival, stuck to his tough-fiscal-medicine theme after voting near his Thousand Oaks apartment.
He optimistically cast the election as a watershed for California, a day “when we roll back the taxes and the regulations that are choking off our economy, when we reined in our out-of-control bureaucracy and restored our public works.”
In Brentwood on Tuesday morning, Schwarzenegger was swarmed by reporters and camera crews outside the mansion where he and Shriver voted.
“The key thing is to think positive today and hope for the best,” Schwarzenegger told the jostling media huddle.
Inside, the former Mr. Universe who struck it rich as a Hollywood action-film hero donned a pair of wire-rimmed glasses to pinpoint “Schwarzenegger” on his punch-card ballot.
“I always look for the longest name,” he said.Davis told reporters earlier in the day that he felt “absolutely terrific.”
After voting with his wife, Sharon Davis, at a Sunset Boulevard real estate office near their West Hollywood condo, the governor said he was proud of the campaign he ran in an attempt to defeat the recall.
“I think people see the contrast between myself and Mr. Schwarzenegger, and I’m confident of the choice they’ll make today,” he said.
Davis declined to name the candidate he favored on the second part of the ballot, but implied that he had voted for Bustamante, a fellow Democrat who irked the governor by breaking a vow to stay out of the race.
“I voted for the most qualified person on the second ballot,” Davis said. “I think you can probably figure out who that is.”
Later, outside Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, Davis invoked classic underdog Harry S. Truman, the Democrat who squeaked past Republican rival Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential race.
Emerging from Mass -- an Election Day tradition for Davis -- with his wife and mother, the governor said it was a “lucky omen” that his priest woke up Tuesday thinking of Truman.
“So we prayed to Saint Jude,” Davis said, referring to the patron saint of lost causes, and “to God and asked for his will to be done.”
At stake in the election was the most powerful elected office in a state of 35 million people, one beset by traffic-choked freeways, air pollution, racial divisions and a stalled economy.
As the winner, Schwarzenegger will control a sprawling government that spends close to $100 billion a year, but is expected to fall at least $8 billion short of what it needs to sustain public services next year at current levels. The Legislature’s heavy reliance on new debt to plug budget holes this year and last is apt to deepen the hole, and chronic political dysfunction in the Capitol is sure to complicate matters further.
Davis was the first statewide elected official in California to face a recall vote. Californians adopted the recall provision of the state Constitution in 1911 as part of Gov. Hiram Johnson’s Progressive agenda to curb the power of political bosses and parties. But since then, voters have recalled only local officials and four state legislators.
At the roots of Davis’ ouster were the governor’s abysmal public approval ratings, which never recovered after plummeting during the 2001 energy crisis.
In a feat of deft maneuvering, Davis won reelection last year largely by unleashing withering television ads against Republican rivals. His first round of spots against Richard Riordan were a key factor in the former Los Angeles mayor’s landslide defeat in the GOP primary.
In effect, the Democratic governor had crowned his weakest possible opponent, Bill Simon Jr., as his Republican challenger. In the next onslaught of ads, Davis slammed Simon as a dishonest and incompetent businessman. Davis won, 47% to 42%, but the record-low turnout was widely seen as a sign of voter disgust at the perennial “lesser of two evils” choice they faced.
Within weeks of his reelection, Davis revealed that the state’s budget shortfall had soared to a record $38 billion. His bitter remedy -- tax hikes and deep service cuts -- set off a storm of criticism, creating an ideal climate for a recall drive, which qualified for the ballot in July.
That alone would have been enough to make history. But the entrance of Schwarzenegger -- via “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” -- ignited an explosion of media and voter interest in the race.
Adding to the novelty were the other 134 candidates on the replacement ballot -- among them a sumo wrestler, a porn actress, Hustler Magazine Publisher Larry Flynt and an assortment of entrepreneurs who saw the race as good publicity.
Schwarzenegger spent much of his race flying over the heads of the state’s political reporters, following his “Tonight Show” appearance with interviews on “Access Hollywood,” “Oprah” and with CNN’s Larry King.
He offered only spare details of how he would right the listing ship of state. He vowed to rescind a $4-billion increase in the state’s vehicle license fees, a move that would swell next year’s budget gap to $12 billion or more. He declined to specify any of the cuts he would need to honor his pledge not to raise taxes.
Davis, for his part, initially dismissed the recall as an irritant. His effort to tout achievements -- landmark environmental legislation, rising test scores and hundreds of thousands more children covered by health insurance -- failed to boost his standing with the public.
By election day, many voters were convinced he was not up to the job. Never, in all of the independent polling during the election, did Davis eke out even the smallest of margins in his favor.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), whose lavish funding made the recall possible, declared Schwarzenegger’s victory “a mandate for change” and declared himself “proud to be a small part of it.”
He also lambasted the Los Angeles Times for publishing the accounts of 15 women who said they were groped or humiliated by the Hollywood star over a period spanning roughly 30 years. “The L.A. Times was a partisan against the recall, a partisan against Arnold Schwarzenegger. The people saw through it and rejected that,” Issa said.
Democrats were magnanimous in defeat -- to a point.
“May God bless California,” said Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. “Now the hard part begins--governing.”
State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) suggested that Schwarzenegger could use “a lesson in what he doesn’t know .... The problem for the state is that he really doesn’t know anything.”
It could take up to 39 days before the new governor is sworn in. By law, a governor who is recalled “shall be removed from office upon the qualification of his successor.” But California law gives the secretary of state up to 39 days to certify election results, so the recall vote count might not be finalized until Nov. 15.
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Excerpts from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory speech:
‘I want to thank [Maria] for the love and the strength that she has given me. I want to thank her so much for being the greatest wife and the most spectacular partner. And I know how many votes I got today because of you.’
‘And I want to thank also all the people on this campaign, all the people that volunteered, the hard work they have put in ... the fantastic job they have done working around the clock all the time on my behalf. I wouldn’t be standing up here today if it wasn’t for you all.’
‘I want to also thank the people of California. From the time I came over to this country, you have opened up your arms to me, you have received me, you have given me opportunities, endless amount of opportunities. Everything that I have is because of California. I came here with absolutely nothing. California has given me absolutely everything.’
‘And today California has given me the greatest gift of all: You’ve given me your trust by voting for me. Thank you very much to all the people of California for giving me this great trust.’
‘It’s very important that we need to bring back the trust in the government itself. For two months, I went up and down the state and listened to the people. I met good, honest and hard-working people, people that want to raise their families here, people who want to do business here, who want to have jobs here, who want to educate their kids here, people that want to enjoy the clean air and the clean water. And I have heard your voice, I have heard your voices loud and clear.’
‘We have tough choices ahead. The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success: Shall we rebuild our state together, or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create an even deeper division and fail the people of California? Well, let me tell you something: The answer is clear. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose.’
‘I will reach out to Republicans, to Democrats and independents, to those who supported the recall and those who did not.... I want to be the governor for the people.’
‘Put the Division of the Recall Behind Us’
Excerpts from Gov. Gray Davis’ concession speech:
‘Tonight I stand before you with a heart full of gratitude and appreciation. I am so grateful to all of you and to the people of California for the privilege and the honor of representing 35 million people the last five years and the opportunity to serve you, and in my own way, try to make life better....”
‘We’ve had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years. Tonight the voters decided it’s time for someone else to serve, and I accept their judgment. I have placed a call to Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger ... to extend best wishes from myself and my wonderful wife, Sharon, to he and Maria....”
‘Over the past five years some good things have happened, even in the face of a tough recession.... We have focused on the schools, achievement scores are up five years in a row ... we have 300,000 more scholarships a year for deserving students ... we’ve provided health care for 1 million children who didn’t have it when I became governor, and I’m proud to have signed legislation that will extend health care to working Californians, 1 million of them starting in 2006.”
‘Now I have a different message for you. I am calling on everyone in this state to put the chaos and the division of the recall behind us and do what’s right for this great state of California.
And I pledged to Mr. Schwarzenegger tonight the full cooperation of my administration during this transition.... We will do that just as Gov. Wilson did for me.... “
‘I told my mother and my wife before we came out here that this is a no-crying zone on this stage. They can cry later tonight.... We have had many good fights together. We have advanced the interests of our people, in this state, over my 20-year political career.... I am proud of what we have accomplished together these last five years, and I am secure in the knowledge that whatever its challenges, California remains the greatest place on Earth. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this great state.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
76% of vote counted
For recalling Gov. Gray Davis
To replace Gov. Gray Davis
Source: California secretary of state