By Adam Tanner and Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES/SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California's recall election looked too close to call hours from the start of polling on Tuesday in a race for governor in which Republican muscleman-turned-Hollywood-film-star Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to unseat technocrat Democrat Gray Davis.
What began as a Republican-led protest vote over Davis' handling of the state's economy and recent energy crisis has become a referendum on Schwarzenegger, especially his alleged groping and sexual harassment of women.
Davis' campaign said its new tracking survey of 1,200 likely voters found a 50 percent to 48 percent split between those favoring a "yes" vote on the recall and those planning to vote "no."
That survey was at odds with the latest independent statewide poll, issued on Sunday by Knight Ridder newspapers and an NBC affiliate, which found a 54 to 41 percent spread between recall supporters and opponents -- 54 percent to 41 percent.
But both those polls included sampling from before and after allegations surfaced that Schwarzenegger groped or sexually harassed some 15 women over the years and once expressed admiration for Hitler.
Schwarzenegger aide Todd Harris said his candidate remained ahead in his campaign's internal tracking polls but declined to release the numbers or discuss whether recent polling reflected a decline in support.
'HAVING SO MUCH FUN'
On Monday morning, several hundred Schwarzenegger fans gathered in an aircraft hanger in San Jose to kick off the action hero's final "fly-around" in California before voting on Tuesday.
The actor made no reference to the sex charges, insisting with his trademark grin: "I'm having a great time with this campaign. I'm having so much fun."
A phalanx of aides and bodyguards kept eager journalists at bay. Some veteran reporters say it is easier to get access to traveling U.S. presidents than the Austrian-born star.
A few protesters lined the road to the event, but Schwarzenegger faithful made up most of Monday's crowd.
"He who is without sin should cast the first stone," said Brock Brereton, who owns a printing and graphics company. "It is easy to make allegations in the last days of the campaign."
Davis, after getting a rousing welcome from more than 1,000 firefighters who crowded Union Square in San Francisco, ended his day in downtown Los Angeles, where union members mixed with bosses in a noisy get-out-the-vote rally.
As James Brown's "Ain't Gonna Give It Up" blared over the speakers, a smiling Davis, who seemed to find his rhythm in the last days of his campaign, began clapping and swaying in time to the music.
"This race is razor close -- right there on the edge," he told the crowd of about 400. "We need to do everything we can in the next 24 to 36 hours ... to reaffirm the democratic values we hold so dear. Let's get to it!"
SURFERS AND SLACKERS
Late on Monday in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, the Hollywood icon mingled with surfers and slackers, some sporting "Surfers for Arnold" placards and others either uninterested or skeptical.
"He's a good movie star, but how would you know what he would do for California?" asked surfer Shaun Wright, 39, as a plane flew over the crowded beach and pier with a "Join Arnold" banner fluttering behind it.
At the end of the rally, Schwarzenegger was given a surfboard bearing his image and the words "Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Recall," to which one crowd member shouted "Wow, that's cool!"
Schwarzenegger has expressed outrage and puzzlement at the late barrage of sexual misconduct charges, calling them part of an orchestrated "dirty tricks" campaign.
He has promised to address all the charges in detail after the election, too late for his critics.
"We can't wait until after the election for the truth," the California National Organization for Women said in a statement. "Stop crying dirty politics and tell us the truth."