Schwarzenegger kicking off bus tour

GOP campaign dismisses groping allegations

Thursday, October 2, 2003 Posted: 12:05 PM EDT (1605 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Buoyed by encouraging polls, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger kicks off a four-day bush tour Thursday in his bid to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from office.

Five days before the gubernatorial recall election, the leading candidates are stepping up their campaigning, trying to rally their respective supporters.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's campaign aides dismissed a report in the Los Angeles Times which details accusations by six women that the actor groped them in incidents that took place over three decades. The aides said the story was part of a last-ditch effort by Democrats to discredit Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger was to kick off his bus tour in San Diego and travel north through the state over the next four days.

For his part, Davis was due to appear with Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a continuation of his effort to portray the recall as part of a broader GOP campaign to challenge elections they lost. Davis was re-elected to a second term in November, but his popularity has plummeted as the state deals with a budget crunch and lackluster economy.

"If we come together and unite against this recall, we will beat back this power grab and send a message form California to Crawrford, Texas, to the White House: We are not going to stand for a Republican power grab," Davis said Wednesday at a rally with Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark.

Come Tuesday, California voters will decide whether to boot Davis out of office, and, on the second part of the ballot, they will pick from 135 names for a replacement should the recall succeed.

The question of whether to recall Davis will be decided by a majority of votes, but his successor -- if there is one -- only needs to pick up a plurality of votes.

In a show of increasing confidence, Schwarzenegger, the leading candidate in the polls, has begun talking his plans for the state.

He said Wednesday that, if elected, his first move as California governor would be to repeal the state's car tax. He laid out a plan for his first 100 days as governor that besides the car tax repeal includes steps to freeze spending and audit the state budget.

Schwarzenegger also vowed to streamline educational programs and roll back pension increases for state employees, and the audience gave him a standing ovation when he promised to repeal a law allowing illegal immigrants to receive state driver's licenses.

"My message is this: We are ready to take office, take action. We are ready to return California to the people," Schwarzenegger said Wednesday.

The unpopular car tax, which took effect Wednesday, tripled registration fees for many California drivers.

The increase was part of Davis' plan to try to close the state's budget deficit, but the public anger it provoked helped boost the recall against him.

In the wake of a Los Angeles Times poll showing his campaign slipping, Davis released a new radio ad featuring former President Clinton and appeared in Los Angeles alongside the newest Democratic presidential contender, former NATO commander Wesley Clark.

The embattled governor also stands to benefit from the withdrawal from the race of independent Arianna Huffington, who is urging her supporters to vote against the recall.

The Times poll, published Wednesday, showed 56 percent of likely voters support recalling Davis. Schwarzenegger led the pack of potential replacements with the support of 40 percent of likely voters.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante trailed Schwarzenegger with 32 percent in the poll. GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock had 15 percent.

The previous Times poll, in mid-September, found 50 percent of voters would recall Davis and 47 percent would keep him in office -- a statistical dead heat.

That poll showed Schwarzenegger trailing Bustamante by 30 percent to 25 percent, with McClintock at 18.

Wednesday's poll mirrors the trends in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released over the weekend that showed only 35 percent of probable voters would vote to keep Davis in office.

That poll showed Schwarzenegger with 40 percent support among replacement candidates, with Bustamante at 25 percent and McClintock at 18.