A Confident Schwarzenegger Steps Up Attacks on Davis

New York Times

Published: September 29, 2003

SANTA MARIA, Calif., Sept. 28 — Appealing to Californians' feelings of a loss of control and joblessness, Arnold Schwarzenegger declared war today on Gov. Gray Davis and business as usual in Sacramento.

Promising deliverance without sacrifice and a balanced budget without tax increases, Mr. Schwarzenegger made it clear that he considered the recall race in its final days to have boiled down to two choices: himself and Mr. Davis.

Embarking on a salt-of-the-earth and baby-hugging tour across California today, the Republican action-movie hero depicted the election as a referendum on Mr. Davis's tenure, and painted a bleak picture of the state's financial condition, with businesses and residents pouring out to seek better lives in the Nevada desert.

Sticking with combat metaphors, Mr. Schwarzenegger said that Mr. Davis was a captain who had led his ship aground and that the final days of the campaign were sure to be bloody ones.

"Let me just now tell you something, this is now hand-to-hand combat, we are in the trenches, this is war," he told a crowd of 2,000 in a hangar here this afternoon. "Desperate Davis is going to do all kinds of tricks. He's going to start a dirty campaign now. We know how he is."

Mr. Schwarzenegger and his camp have been buoyed by internal polls and others indicating that he is surging past Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, a Democrat, and State Senator Tom McClintock, a Republican.

Those polls also indicate that while Mr. Davis has gained ground over the past few weeks on the question of his removal, likely voters are still inclined to oust him on Oct. 7.

The Associated Press reported that a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released today showed 63 percent of probable voters saying they would vote "yes" on the recall question, and 35 percent voting "no."

Of those surveyed, Mr. Schwarzenegger was the choice of 40 percent, Lieutenant Governor Bustamante 25 percent and Mr. McClintock 18 percent, suggesting Mr. Schwarzenegger could become governor even if Republicans split their vote.

The poll of 787 registered voters used a model for probable voters that assumed a relatively high 50 percent turnout among the state's voting age population. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points and was conducted Thursday through Saturday.

The spokesman for Mr. Davis's campaign, Peter Ragone, discounted the poll.

"It's a joke," Mr. Ragone told The Associated Press. "It is so far from what every other public poll and every other internal poll by both Democrats and Republicans have found."

Today, with his new television commercials depicting Mr. Davis's California as a place of broken dreams and profligate spending, Mr. Schwarzenegger told his supporters he was the best person to lead California. He flew to Monterey and Redding this afternoon to deliver his message to bused-in supporters.

Mr. Davis has begun hammering at Mr. Schwarzenegger, challenging him to a debate on "Larry King Live." On Saturday, he mustered some of his strongest language of the campaign, suggesting that Mr. Schwarzenegger had distorted his record and run a negative campaign despite promises not to do so.

"When he overstates or misstates the facts, I am going to correct him," Mr. Davis said in a visit to a Los Angeles center for the elderly. He also struck back with his own commercials, saying Mr. Schwarzenegger had no experience, ducked debates, dodged the news media and had not voted in 13 of the previous 20 elections.

Aides to Mr. Schwarzenegger have denounced Mr. Davis's tactics as the desperate clawing of a political animal sensing his own extinction.

"We expect a vicious round of attacks," said Sean Walsh, a spokesman for Mr. Schwarzenegger. "It's been his career trademark. So if he wants to go that way, we're going to focus on his record and on the man himself."

As for Mr. Schwarzenegger's voting record, his lawyer said that he had voted consistently over the past 10 years but that on numerous occasions his absentee ballots were not counted for some reason and were destroyed.

"He may have forgotten to sign them," said his lawyer, Colleen McAndrews. "I've advised him to vote in person from now on."

In this last full week of the race, Californians can expect wall-to-wall commercials. Mr. Schwarzenegger is spending $2 million a week on advertising, and Mr. Davis and his supporters are likely to match it. Though a court ruled that Mr. Bustamante could not use nearly $4 million raised through an old campaign account, an Indian tribe with gambling interests has infused nearly $2 million into his campaign.

Mr. McClintock has also received sizeable contributions from a tribe, and the Republican Governors Association plans to spend $1 million on advertisements against Mr. Bustamante.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, once Hollywood's highest-grossing box-office attraction, told the audience in Santa Maria today that a person who had egged him a few weeks ago in Long Beach had been apprehended. "He was a movie critic."