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Campaigns Trade Barbs as Race Nears End

Schwarzenegger disputes new accounts of his behavior and berates the governor's camp. Davis suggests the candidate be investigated.

October 05, 2003|Peter Nicholas, | Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, campaigning the length of the state, traded bitter charges Saturday over the Republican front-runner's treatment of women, as the controversy consumed the recall race for a third straight day.

Schwarzenegger vehemently denied the accounts from three more women, quoted Saturday in The Times, who said he had grabbed or groped them.

"The last accusations I read today," Schwarzenegger told reporters at a Central Valley stop, are "absolutely untrue." He accused the newspaper of being in league with Davis. Later in the day, he offered a general acknowledgment of misbehavior and apologized.

"Where I did make mistakes, or maybe I did go overboard sometimes

Davis, seizing on the newest accusations, said the behavior -- if it occurred -- constituted a crime and suggested that a formal probe might be warranted. Electing Schwarzenegger on Tuesday "would then saddle the state with a whole 'nother set of problems," Davis said in Oakland.

"I urge people to think long and hard before making this choice," the governor said.

Amid the latest back-and-forth came signs that the recall race was tightening somewhat. Just days ago it had seemed a foregone conclusion, with recall supporters holding a broad lead in polls and Schwarzenegger pulling away from the other replacement candidates.

Opinion surveys conducted over the last two days by the Davis and Schwarzenegger camps both showed support for the recall slipping, though still ahead. The surveys, along with other independent polls, also showed a slide in the actor's favorability ratings.

The political imperative that each man faced Saturday was illustrated by the company he kept.

To stem further erosion in support, Schwarzenegger spent the day surrounded by women, including wife Maria Shriver, who gave a spirited testimonial to him as husband and father.

Davis spent the day in the company of fellow Democrats, many of whom suddenly seemed a good deal more eager to be seen alongside him.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined Davis at an Oakland union hall, called on wayward Democrats to return to the party fold. As many as one-fourth are supporting the recall, according to opinion polls.

"Come home," Feinstein pleaded. "It's unfair. It's unjust. You will set into motion a chain of events that will hurt this state much more than you will help this state."

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the sole major Democrat in the race to replace Davis, campaigned in San Francisco, where he toured the heavily Latino Mission District and urged voters to oppose the recall for the sake of his daughters -- a pointed reference to the accusations against Schwarzenegger.

It was not just Democrats, however, who weighed in on the controversy, hoping to exploit the revelations and turn the election in its final hours.

Stumping in San Diego, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) expressed concern about the growing number of women stepping forward to say they had been manhandled by the Hollywood star, in incidents dating from the 1970s to 2000.

"As the number of charges multiply and as the specificity of those charges multiply it becomes a very serious matter," said McClintock, who has stayed in the race despite strong pressure from the GOP establishment to join others united behind Schwarzenegger.

"I believe that the press and the public are still sorting through those details," McClintock said. "But because they're coming so late, I believe they do have to be treated very carefully and very soberly. I still am waiting to see the facts unfold."

Other Republicans also expressed concern about the actions ascribed to Schwarzenegger.

"This is exactly why I was against the county chairmen taking a position," said Placer County Republican Party Chairman Ken Campbell, referring to Schwarzenegger's endorsement 10 days ago by a statewide organization of GOP leaders.

In an unusual move, the Oakland Tribune on Saturday withdrew its endorsement of Schwarzenegger, citing the numerous accounts of abusive behavior toward women.

"By no stretch of the imagination can his groping and grabbing on 'rowdy movie sets' be dismissed as an isolated incident," said an editorial in the newspaper, which recommended a "no" vote on the recall and abstaining on the second half of the ballot.

"Called a 'sexual harasser' by one female and a 'predator' by others, we can no longer in good conscience recommend him for governor," the newspaper said.

Privately, strategists for the actor conceded that the race was tightening a bit, but expressed confidence that Schwarzenegger would prevail Tuesday.

Counterparts in the Davis camp agreed that the governor remained an underdog but said the odd nature of the bifurcated ballot gave them a glimmer of hope.

"If it was a pure choice on Arnold, it would be over," said one Davis strategist, admitting that the governor remains hugely unpopular. "If it was a pure choice on Gray, it would be over the other way."

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