Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 7 News List

California recall enters final stretch

WRAPPING UP In the hours before the polls opened yesterday, Governor Gray Davis was battling to keep his job while Arnold Schwarzenegger mingled with surfers


California's tumultuous recall election entered its final hours on Monday as actor Arnold Schwarze-negger brushed off sexual misconduct charges in a final sprint for the governor's mansion and Gover-nor Gray Davis battled to save his job.

Californians were to decide yesterday whether to oust Davis, an unpopular Democrat famous for his lack of charisma and dedication to fund-raising, then pick from an assortment of 135 replacement candidates. What began as a Republican-led protest vote over Davis' handling of the state's economy and recent energy crisis has become a referendum on Schwarzenegger, especially his alleged groping and sexual harassment of women.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that the actor groped or harassed at least 15 women.

High-profile Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred on Monday added fuel to the fire surrounding the actor-turned-politician with a new charge involving a woman who worked as a stunt double on the set of two Schwarzenegger films.

At a news conference Allred presented Rhonda Miller, who said the actor had forcibly lifted her shirt, photographed her bare breasts and then sucked on them in a make-up trailer on the set of Terminator 2 in 1991.

But neither Allred nor Miller could offer corroborating evidence for the accusations -- which did not surface for more than a decade -- and Miller declined to take questions from reporters.

Schwarzenegger issued a strong and specific denial of Miller's allegations. "The statement made today by Rhonda Miller is not factually correct," he said, adding that he never took a picture of her and that "all of the other comments that were made by Ms. Miller, they did not occur."

The Schwarzenegger campaign also produced statements by two crew members on Terminator 2 who disputed Miller's account.

Hair stylist Peter Tothpal said he was the one who took the photograph, while she was "giggling and having a good time." Make-up supervisor Jeff Dawn said six people were in the trailer when the picture was taken, with Miller's consent, and that Schwarzenegger was not present.

Earlier, several hundred Schwar-zenegger fans gathered in an aircraft hangar in San Jose on Monday morning to kick off the action hero's final "fly-around" California ahead of voting yesterday in the raucous recall election.

Schwarzenegger's wife, newscaster and Kennedy cousin Maria Shriver, told the crowd she told her children that "no matter what happens in this race, your father has done an extraordinary thing."

Meanwhile Davis began the day talking about the issue he has long called his passion, education, with high school and college students at a forum in Sacramento.

High school student Elizabeth Perkins asked him what he thought about the recall. "It is not my favorite subject," Davis dead-panned.

"I understand that these are hard times and people are angry, and I have acknowledged making mistakes. But we are making progress on a lot of our problems and if the people of this state allow me to complete my term I will work my heart out to make things better," Davis said.

Davis' own polls show support has settled at about even money for him on the recall, although independent pollsters said those results should be read with skepticism.

Later in the day in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, Schwarzenegger mingled with surfers, some sporting "Surfers for Arnold" placards and others either uninterested or skeptical.

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