REDDING, Calif. – Buoyed by new poll numbers, Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) barnstormed around California as voters seemed to indicate they heavily favored recalling Gov. Gray Davis (search) -- and replacing him with the Hollywood star.
The USA Today-Gallup poll shows the Republican candidate far ahead of his nearest rivals as the Oct. 7 election approaches, with most voters choosing Davis' removal.
The poll was released Sunday amid a flurry of weekend activity that signaled the race for the California governor's office has entered its stretch run: Davis unveiled a new attack ad, Schwarzenegger made multiple campaign stops, other candidates attended a forum in Sacramento and newspapers published a spate of largely anti-recall editorials.
The new survey, taken after a debate last week that drew large television audiences, showed 63 percent of probable voters saying they would vote "yes" on the recall question, and 35 percent voting "no."
As a potential replacement for Davis, Schwarzenegger was the choice of 40 percent, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) 25 percent and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock 18 percent -- suggesting Schwarzenegger could become governor even if Republicans split their vote.
But Democrats attacked the numbers, noting that other polls have shown far less support for the recall.
"It's a joke," said Davis campaign spokesman Peter Ragone. "It is so far from what every other public poll and every other internal poll by both Democrats and Republicans have found."
The poll of 787 registered voters used a model for probable voters that assumes a relatively high 50 percent turnout among the state's voting age population. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, and was conducted Thursday through Saturday.
Gallup executive editor Frank Newport said 55 percent of the full sample of registered voters supported the recall -- a number more in line with previous polls. But support went up when Gallup looked at those who were very interested and said they were likely to vote. The 63 percent figure represented a best estimate of probable voters. "It looks like the turnout is skewed toward those who are anti-Davis," Newport said.
Schwarzenegger hit the campaign trail Sunday, appearing before enthusiastic crowds in airport hangars across the state.
In Redding, he was introduced by a Marine injured in Iraq. After a little girl sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," Schwarzenegger delivered now-familiar promises to reform Sacramento and restore California's lost glory, then ended with a dark warning to his supporters to be on the lookout for Davis attacks.
"Desperate Davis is going to do all kinds of tricks, he is going to do all kinds of tricks, he is going to start a dirty campaign now, we know how he is," Schwarzenegger said.
Actually, the Schwarzenegger campaign went negative first, airing anti-Davis ads all last week before the governor began responding in kind Friday.
The Davis campaign, meanwhile, launched its newest television commercial attacking the Republican, accusing Schwarzenegger of ducking tough questions and refusing to debate.
Davis campaign manager Larry Grisolano called the ad a response to Schwarzenegger's distortions of the governor's record on spending, health care and the environment. The governor himself worked to stay above the fray Sunday, signing several bills dealing with HMO reform and patients' rights.
Aside from Schwarzenegger, all the other major candidates gathered for a public forum in Sacramento, where Bustamante, the leading Democrat among the potential Davis replacements, endorsed a proposal for public funding of campaigns.
Bustamante's campaign has been criticized for accepting almost $4 million from Indian tribes and labor unions, but he said the current system of campaign financing gives the wealthy an unfair advantage.
Meanwhile, several California newspapers made their endorsements Sunday.
The Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee each called for a "no" vote on the recall, but made no candidate recommendations for the second part of the ballot.
The San Diego Union-Tribune recommended the governor be replaced with Schwarzenegger, while the Oakland Tribune urged readers to vote "no" on the recall but endorsed Schwarzenegger for the second half of the ballot.