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Arnie magic tour turns into nightmare

Los Angeles, Oct. 3 (Reuters): What was supposed to be the final victory bus tour in actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s run for California governor was a not-so-magical mystery tour today dogged by skeletons from his past — allegations that he admired Hitler and groped women.

Followed by 220 journalists on four buses touring the state, Republican Schwarzenegger kicked off the second day of a bus tour after apologising for past sexual harassment and distancing himself from a 1975 statement admiring Hitler, a comment he said last night he could not imagine making.

Polls show Californians solidly want to oust Democratic governor Gray Davis, whom they blame for the state’s lacklustre economy, in Tuesday’s recall election. Schwarzenegger, who has never held elective office, has taken the lead in the surveys among a record field of 131 candidates.

A Field Poll released today found 57 per cent favouring a recall against Davis. Among replacement candidates, 36 per cent preferred Schwarzenegger to 26 per cent for Democrat Cruz Bustamante, California’s lieutenant governor.

Yesterday, Schwarzenegger issued an extraordinary apology to women whom he may have touched inappropriately while a bodybuilder and actor. His comments came in response to a long story in the Los Angeles Times citing complaints from six women who said he humiliated and sexually harassed them.

“Yes, I have behaved badly some times, yes it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets,” Schwarzenegger said. “I have done things I thought were playful but now I recognise that I have offended people. I want to say to them that I am deeply sorry about that.”

The state’s Republican Party chairman, Duf Sundheim, praised Schwarzenegger for making his apology to women, saying: “He stood up in front of the world and said ‘I was wrong.’ It takes a big man to do that.”

Bustamante said the former Mr. Universe’s harassment of women violated California law and Davis expressed concern.

“I’m disturbed by what I’ve heard,” Davis said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America. He said he was particularly concerned by news reports that Schwarzenegger had once expressed admiration for Hitler.

A women’s rights group scheduled a news conference today to ask Los Angeles authorities to investigate Schwarzenegger’s behaviour.

“If the investigation reveals that other women have been battered more recently — within the statute of limitations — then the D.A. must consider bringing criminal charges,” said Marjorie Sims, executive director of the nonprofit California Women’s Law Centre.

Another group planned a news conference today with two women it said Schwarzenegger had accosted.

The New York Times and ABC News reported that Schwarzenegger expressed admiration for brutal German dictator Adolf Hitler in interviews with his close friend, documentary filmmaker George Butler, who circulated a book proposal on the bodybuilder-actor’s views.

“I admired Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power,” the book proposal quoted Schwarzenegger as telling Butler. “I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it.”

The Times quoted Butler as saying he considered Schwarzenegger a “flagrant, outspoken admirer of Hitler” in the 1970s. The newspaper said Butler also claimed he witnessed Schwarzenegger play “Nazi marching songs from long-playing records in his collection at home” and “frequently clicked his heels and pretended to be an S.S. officer.”

Schwarzenegger said last night at a Los Angeles hotel: “I don’t remember any of those comments. I despise everything the Nazis or Hitler stood for.”

High-level Republicans and Schwarzenegger himself said the attacks against him were politically motivated.

“Real attacks come out early. Attacks that come out in the last week of the campaign are always about the candidate showing how unfair they are,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who bankrolled the recall effort against Davis.

“I think the voters see through this.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Party sources said pressure was increasing on Bustamante to withdraw from the race, a move Davis supporters hope will convince more people to vote against the recall. Party sources said Davis’ tracking polls show him losing the recall 52 to 41 per cent if Bustamante stays in the race but drawing even at 47 to 47 per cent if he withdraws.

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