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."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 09, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Bustamante -- The name of the wife of California's lieutenant governor was misspelled in a Section A photo caption in some editions Wednesday. She is Arcelia Bustamante, not Aracella.
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.