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Shriver rises to Arnie’s defence
- after california’s davis, alabama’s riley puts faith in vote

Santa Monica, Sept. 6 (Reuters): Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, who has stayed largely behind the scenes in his run for California governor, gave a spirited defence of her husband’s character today amid accusations that he treated women poorly.

Shriver spoke to some 200 Schwarzenegger volunteers at the opening of a campaign office in Santa Monica, a Los Angeles suburb, as members of a feminist group angry over his sexually frank remarks in a 1977 magazine interview protested outside.

“This is the man I love, the man I believe in,” said Shriver, a Democrat and member of the nation’s most prominent Democratic family as niece of late President John F. Kennedy.

“He’s one of the most gracious, supportive, open-minded men I’ve ever met,” she said. “He has encouraged me every step of my life and I’ve known him since I was 21. I know I would not be where I wanted to go in my career or as a woman without his support. He’s smart, he’s kind, he’s compassionate.”

California overcame one of the last legal hurdles yesterday to a special election that could recall a governor for the second time in US history when a federal court rejected a lawsuit seeking a delay.

The decision followed a US justice department green light for the election despite the lawsuit’s objections that an October 7 ballot might discriminate against minorities by cutting back the number of polling places.

Shriver, who arrived at the campaign office with Schwarzenegger, made her appearance after a week in which the Terminator star came under fire for a 1977 interview he gave to Oui magazine in which he described group sex at a gym.

She told the volunteers that her husband wanted to reach out to voters of all persuasions, including those who had become disillusioned with the political process and Democrats like herself.

“This is your home and we want you to join Arnold,” Shriver, a television journalist and anchor on leave from her job at NBC news, said. “If you are a Democrat you are welcome here. I work here, you can work here.” Schwarzenegger, the top Republican candidate to replace embattled Gov. Gray Davis should Californians decide to boot him from office, followed his wife to the podium and returned the compliments.

“She has been the most extraordinary supporter and friend I have ever had,” he said.

Outside the office, dozens of protesters led by the feminist group CODEPink chanted anti-Schwarzenegger slogans and carried signs urging people to “Just Say No to Arnold.”

Protester Karen Pomer said she was unmoved by Shriver's defence of the action film star.

“His behaviour may be OK to her but it’s not OK to us,” Pomer said.

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