California enters final stage of recall battle


California Governor Gray Davis charged into the final stage of the state's wild recall battle today enthused by charges of sexism and Nazi sympathies against Arnold Schwarzenegger, his chief rival for the state's top political position.

What began as a grass roots protest over Davis' handling of the state's ailing economy has become a referendum on the bodybuilder turned Hollywood star, dogged by allegations that he repeatedly groped women and admired Adolf Hitler.

Davis stopped short yesterday of calling for a criminal investigation of the former Mr. Universe, but warned a women's forum in Oakland, California the state may be on the verge of saddling itself with a governor with a criminal past. Groping is viewed as criminal sexual assault in California.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has accused Davis and others of waging "puke politics" and trying to "torpedo my campaign."

Davis appeared emboldened by an internal poll suggesting support for the recall - though still just above 50 percent - is slipping as the heat remains on Schwarzenegger, with 48 percent opposed in the poll of 500 registered voters.

"I feel good about this campaign," Davis told Reuters in an interview in San Diego on Saturday evening. "Elections are always a leap of faith. ... This has been a crazy election. There have been some wild swings."

"Mr. Schwarzenegger ... got in trouble because of his own behaviour and he shouldn't look to anyone else to blame."

A separate poll released on Saturday by the San Jose Mercury showed support for the recall at 54 percent, with 35 percent favouring Schwarzenegger to replace Davis and 27 percent backing Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.