On 77th Day, the Voters Speak
Loudly Against Davis's Record
New York Times
By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: October 8, 2003
OS ANGELES, Oct. 8 In an emphatic end to an extraordinary campaign, Californians voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to recall Gov. Gray Davis and chose as his replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder and movie actor making his first run for office.
With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, the recall question on the two-part ballot was passing by 54.7 percent to 45.3 percent, closely mirroring results from a survey of voters conducted for The New York Times and other news organizations. The interviews with more than 4,000 voters showed deep dissatisfaction with Mr. Davis's performance in office and a profound desire for change in direction in California, the nation's largest state.
In the contest to replace Mr. Davis, Mr. Schwarzenegger led his nearest competitor, Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, 48.1 percent to 32.2 percent.
In an appearance before cheering supporters late Tuesday night, after being introduced by the talk show host Jay Leno, Mr. Schwarzenegger thanked his wife, Maria Shriver, saying, "I know how many votes I got because of you."
Saying he owed a great debt to California, Mr. Schwarzenegger thanked the people of the state and said: "I will do everything I can to live up to that trust. I will not fail you. I will not disappoint you and I will not let you down."
He called for unity among the various factions in the state and said "We need to bring back the trust in the government itself."
Mr. Davis called Mr. Schwarzenegger shortly before 10 p.m. Pacific time to concede the election. Addressing supporters in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom a few minutes later, Mr. Davis said, "Tonight the voters decided it's time for someone else to serve. My friends, we've had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years, but tonight the people did decide it's time for someone else to serve, and I accept their judgment."
When he said California would soon have a new governor, his supporters began to chant "Recall, recall," perhaps a portent of further instability and bitterness.
But he urged his supporters "to put the chaos and the division of the recall behind them."
In interviews conducted as part of the survey, voters rendered a sharply negative verdict on Mr. Davis, who has spent most of his adult life in politics and who was re-elected just 11 months ago. Nearly three of four of the voters disapproved of his job performance, and four of five said they thought the economy was "not so good" or poor.
Mr. Schwarzenegger was viewed favorably by half of voters, even though many who said they voted for him also said he had not put forward a specific enough plan for addressing the state's problems, the poll found. Mr. Schwarzenegger did not do significantly worse among women than among men, despite repeated reports in recent days of sexual misconduct by him. In fact, the vast majority of voters surveyed said they had made up their minds on whom to vote for more than a month ago. Even those who decided in the last week chose Mr. Schwarzenegger over all other candidates.
Mr. Schwarzenegger would take office only after Tuesday's election results are certified by the California secretary of state. The process typically takes four to five weeks, meaning that a transfer of power may not take place until early November.
Tuesday's vote concluded 77 days of political mayhem unlike anything this state has seen. The race featured a crazy quilt of 135 candidates, any of whom, under the unusual rules of the recall, could have been elected with a simple plurality. But it ended in a close-in brawl between a seasoned political gut-puncher, Mr. Davis, and a willful newcomer, Mr. Schwarzenegger. In the end, however, Mr. Davis simply had no strength left to overcome his rival's momentum and celebrity.
The race generated enormous interest in California and around the world because of the novelty of a recall and the star power of Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose most recent movie, "Terminator 3," was released weeks before the race began. Californians followed the 11-week contest with an intensity usually reserved for freeway car chases and Oscar night.
The candidates spent $83 million, more than $40 million of it on a downpour of television advertising in the race's closing weeks. The biggest single source of campaign money $10.3 million was Mr. Schwarzenegger's personal bank account.
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Secretary of State Kevin Shelley estimated the turnout on Tuesday at 9.25 million voters, about 60 percent of the state's 15.4 million registered voters, compared with about 50 percent last November and 71 percent in the 2000 election. If the estimate proves accurate, it will be the state's highest voter participation in a nonpresidental election since 1982.
Mr. Davis cast his vote in a real estate office on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood late Tuesday morning, the same place where Larry Flynt, the self-described "smut-peddler with a heart" and one of the candidates on the replacement ballot, cast his ballot a few minutes earlier. Mr. Davis was accompanied by his wife, Sharon, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has appeared several times on Mr. Davis's behalf to try to rally disaffected Democrats.
Mr. Schwarzenegger voted in the garage of a big, gated house in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles, near his home, trailed by a battalion of reporters and photographers. He put on glasses to study the ballot, which was several pages long.
"I just went through the pages," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "Instead of going through two pages, I just went through 10 pages, and you always look for the longest name."
His wife, Maria Shriver, was by his side, as she has been almost constantly since last Thursday when new reports of sexual misconduct threatened to derail Mr. Schwarzenegger's march to Sacramento.
Discontent with Mr. Davis and the direction of the state was palpable at polling places from one end of this sprawling republic of 35 million people to the other.
Californians are deeply pessimistic about the state's economy, with only about 20 percent calling it good or excellent, according to the survey of 4,172 voters conducted through the day by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Times and other news organizations. Last November, when Mr. Davis won re-election, more than half of voters characterized the state's economy as good, according to a poll conducted by The Los Angeles Times.
The interviews with voters also found that a majority had rejected Proposition 54, the so-called racial privacy initiative, which would bar state and local governments from collecting most data on race, religion and ethnicity. Ward Connerly, a University of California regent and longtime opponent of affirmative action, sponsored the initiative.
The survey conducted on Tuesday includes questionnaires filled out by voters leaving polling places throughout the state, as well as a telephone poll conducted over the past week of those who said they submitted absentee ballots.
"Gray Davis really made a mess out of California, so I was definitely yes on the recall," said Robin Cruse, 45, a stay-at-home mother from San Clemente. "Arnold, I'm not 100 percent on him, but I thought he was still my best choice."
Marc Vasquez, 58, said after casting his ballot in Fresno: "The recall is something that we're privileged to have in this state. It's high time we have officials realize that they can be held accountable."
Even among those who voted against the recall, there was broad unhappiness with the direction of the state and Mr. Davis's stewardship. Almost half of the recall opponents disapproved of the governor's job performance and three-quarters said the state's economy was in bad shape.
Mr. Schwarzenegger and his chief Republican rival, State Senator Tom McClintock, are viewed favorably by the voters, Mr. Schwarzenegger by half the voters and Mr. McClintock by about 55 percent, the poll found.
More than 70 percent of those polled said they disapproved of the job Mr. Davis was doing as governor, with a quarter saying they approved. Mr. Bustamante, the only prominent Democrat on the ballot, was viewed unfavorably by nearly 6 in 10 voters.
It may be some time before the effect of last-minute reports that Mr. Schwarzenegger groped more than a dozen women on movie lots and elsewhere can be fully measured. But at least some voters dismissed the charges as an act of desperation by Mr. Davis and his allies.
Skip McCown, 56, a Republican from San Diego, voted for the recall and for Mr. Schwarzenegger. "It's curious that this spate of accusations came out three or four days before the election," Mr. McCown said. "If anything, it makes me want to vote for him more. This is a Davis ploy. He's the king of dirty tricks."
While Democrats hold a substantial edge in voter registration in California, Mr. Davis had trouble winning their loyalty. The voter poll found that about 18 percent of those who voted to recall Mr. Davis were Democrats.
Deborah Gittes, 42, a school administrator in Coronado, is a registered Democrat who voted to oust Mr. Davis and replace him with Mr. Schwarzenegger. "Davis just messed things up," Ms. Gittes said. "It's good to see Californians empowered themselves."
As for the charges of sexual misconduct against Mr. Schwarzenegger, she said, "There's all this debauchery in the film industry, and it's all brought up at the last minute when he's ahead in the polls."
California has a long tradition of direct democracy, the legacy of Gov. Hiram Johnson of the Progressive Party, who introduced the initiative, referendum and recall to the state constitution in 1911. The state's voters have passed hundreds of laws by initiative over the last 90 years.
Groups have tried 31 times to invoke the recall to remove California governors, including the Republicans Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, but this is the first attempt to qualify for the ballot. The last governor to be recalled was Lynn J. Frazier of North Dakota, in 1921.
Shortly after Mr. Davis was elected to a second four-year term scoring a surprisingly narrow victory over a political novice, Bill Simon Jr. Republican political consultants and an antitax crusader named Ted Costa began exploring the possibility of recalling the governor.