| Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a kiss from his wife Maria Shriver during a victory party in Los Angeles. (AFP)
Los Angeles, Oct. 8 (Reuters): Trading on celebrity, sincerity and a strongman movie image, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger won control of the nation’s richest state, capping an improbable rise from Austrian farm boy to unexpected bright new hope for California.
Schwarzenegger, who never spent a day in political office and hardly ever voted, easily won the governorship of the state in a recall election today that saw voters boil over in anger and throw out Democratic governor Gray Davis less than 10 months into his second term.
Political experts said that had the recall process allowed legislators to be thrown out, all 120 members of the California senate and assembly would be gone with Davis as well.
And instead of years of experience, they voted to make as their governor a man known by film fans around the world as ”The Terminator” and “Conan the Barbarian.” Only in America and only in Hollywood could such a scenario come true and no one was more grateful than the jut-jawed Schwarzenegger.
Beaming broadly and surrounded by the extended family of his wife Maria Shriver, a niece of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Schwarzenegger promised supporters to work to end the partisan squabbling that has riven the state.
“I want to be the governor for the people,” he insisted. “I want to represent everybody.”
“We have tough choices ahead,” he told a crowd of wildly enthusiastic supporters. “Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight among ourselves' ... For the people to win, politics as usual must lose. I will reach out to Republicans and Democrats and independents — to those who supported the recall and those who did not.”
While Davis was gracious in defeat and offered Schwarzenegger an orderly transition to power, many Democrats warned of problems ahead, predicting that Schwarzenegger will have a hard time promoting his programmes. They also questioned his ability to govern.
Democratic state treasurer Phil Angelides said he planned to hold Schwarzenegger to his campaign promises. “He has been less than truthful with the people of California about what it’s going to take to restore fiscal integrity and get the economy going,” Angelides said.
“I’m going to fight for what I think is right for rebuilding this economy. I will give no quarter in that respect.”
When asked how much of his victory Schwarzenegger owed to his celebrity status, state Senator Sheila Kuehl, who played Zelda on the 1950s TV series Dobie Gillis, said: “One-hundred per cent. If this guy was not a movie star he would not be governor. Since he likes one-liners so much, I’ve got one for him: ‘Hey Arnie, show me the money!’”
Schwarzenegger swept Davis out of office in a stunning defeat as Californians vented their fury over the state’s sputtering economy and the career politician leading them, a wooden campaigner who once dreamed of winning the White House.
“We’ve had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years but tonight the people decided it was time for someone else to serve and I accept their judgment,” Davis said in conceding the election to Schwarzenegger.
“I am calling on everyone in this state to put the chaos and division behind us and do what is right for this great state of California,” Davis said.
The recall vote means that the nation’s most populous state that also bills itself as the world’s fifth largest economy, will be ruled by a Republican governor heading into a presidential election year.
With over 70 per cent of precincts reporting, 54.6 per cent of voters wanted Davis out while 45.4 per cent wanted to keep him. Schwarzenegger led his nearest rival, Lt Governor Cruz Bustamante, in the replacement section of the ballot by 48 per cent to 32 per cent, with Republican Tom McClintock third with around 13 per cent.
Significantly, more voters chose Schwarzenegger than favoured keeping Davis.