SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Tom McClintock vowed time and again to remain in the gubernatorial recall race until the end.
For the Thousand Oaks Republican, the end came shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday, when he conceded the election to Arnold Schwarzenegger and pledged his full support to the governor-elect.
"This is a great day for California," he said at the Hyatt Regency Hotel after his third-place finish.
"History will record that on this day, in response to a common danger, the people of California rose ... and ordered a new direction for the people of our state."
Flanked by his tearful wife, Lori, and their two children, McClintock said the campaign had been "the greatest honor and greatest privilege of my life."
Earlier, McClintock had reflected on the significance of the day as he emerged from his Thousand Oaks townhouse to go vote.
"Today, Oct. 7, 2003, could be the historic turning point for California," the 47-year-old conservative told a crush of reporters, as his wife, a church secretary, stood by smiling.
Staring unblinkingly into a crush of cameras, the maverick Republican implored voters one last time to shock the world with a McClintock upset.
Either way, he said, his two-month campaign had been a success.
"I'm a little tired; it's been an exhausting campaign," he said. "But I'm also exhilarated. I know that our message has gotten out there [and] resonated with voters."
When asked the biggest difference between him and Schwarzenegger, he cited his 20 years of experience as state government's most notorious skinflint.
What about speculation the state Republican leadership would take revenge because he had refused to bow out and allow Schwarzenegger to carry the party mantle alone?
"Actually, it's the rank-and-file Republicans I've always drawn my support from," he said. "I'm not very fond of the country-club wing of the Republican Party."
It was voters like Kevin McHenry who posed the biggest hurdle for McClintock on election day. The Thousand Oaks bartender voted for Schwarzenegger just minutes before McClintock arrived at the same community clubhouse.
"I don't think McClintock could get the job done," said McHenry, 22. "I don't think he has the team to do it."
But as McClintock rolled calmly through election day, an unlikely cast of admirers approached to wish him well.
While waiting at Burbank Airport for a flight to Sacramento, several reporters shook his hand and complimented him on the depth of his campaign. State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) spotted McClintock.
"Obviously, I'm not with you on this," she told him. "But I really admire you."
She told him she liked his tenacity, that he stuck to his guns and ran a strong campaign against the odds.
One after another, strangers wished McClintock well, reminding him of an eye-opening experience on a fund-raising trip to Colorado three weeks ago.
"I didn't realize until I was walking through the Colorado Springs airport that this election has a national audience," he said. "Several people came over. So I asked them where they were from, and they said Colorado, Tennessee and Texas."
But his focus Tuesday night was on how his message had played in California, expressing satisfaction that the race had spotlighted his theme of cutting taxes and regulations.
"I believe our campaign acted as the conscience of this election," McClintock said, "and we framed the issues upon which this contest was ultimately decided."