LOS ANGELES – Election day is over in California, where voters turned out in droves to determine the fate of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search), who faces a potential recall from office.
Voters and gubernatorial candidates alike now await results on the first election of its kind in the state's history.
Davis is battling not just a referendum on his job performance but he's also been confronting a slew of candidates wanting to be the state's replacement governor, a group led by actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger (search).
Exit polls revealed that voters were dissatisfied with Davis.
Fox News exit polling of 2,815 voters -- 400 of them absentee voters contacted by phone and the rest at one of 60 polling places as of 9:40 p.m. EDT -- revealed that 26 percent of voters approve of the job Davis is doing as governor while 73 percent said they disapprove.
Despite a spate of sexual groping accusations against Schwarzenegger — considered the front-runner to replace Davis if the recall is approved — women voters were split right down the middle on their approval of the Republican candidate.
Forty-seven percent of women polled said they had a favorable opinion of him, while 47 percent had an unfavorable opinion. That's compared to the overall numbers showing 51 percent with a favorable opinion of Schwarzenegger and 45 percent unfavorable.
Schwarzenegger's support appears to have been only marginally affected by people's opinions of his handling of the issues. Sixty-two percent of voters polled said Schwarzenegger didn't address the issues, while only 32 percent say they believe he did.
Another group of voters questioned were Hispanics, 53 percent of whom were opposed to recalling Davis and 47 percent of whom wanted a new governor.
Fox News will be providing continuous updates from exit poll data throughout the night. Live special election coverage with Brit Hume will bring viewers all the results beginning at 11 p.m. EDT.
End to Long Saga
California's electorate is being asked to finish a saga that has captivated the nation for about three months. If Davis falls, he would be only the second governor in American history to be recalled, and the field would be open to any of 135 replacement candidates.
The winner would be the contender who simply got the most votes, whether 80 or eight percent of votes cast, and would take office as soon as the election is certified.
Recent polls suggest that athat Schwarzenegger was the leading replacement candidate if Davis fell.
"It's time to mix things up," said Mark Laurent, 33, of San Francisco.
But Gretchen Purser, 25, of Berkeley, had a different perspective.
"I'm horrified at the thought that Schwarzenegger can be our governor," she said. "I'm sick of Republicans trying to take over the state."
Long lines grew longer at polling stations as the day wore on, but across the state the process seemed to be moving quickly, despite one glitch in Hollywood when a polling station failed to open as scheduled at 7 a.m. PDT
Voters were diverted to an adjacent polling place, where early turnout was the heaviest Patti Negri said she had seen in 12 years as a polling supervisor.
"I've never been so busy, ever," she said. "We had to do a lot of paperwork but people seem excited and ready to vote."
The gubernatorial candidates joined their fellow Californians at the polls Tuesday morning, casting their votes on whether Davis should keep his job and if not, who should replace him.
Davis' popularity plunged following the downturn in the economy and the bursting of the high-tech investment bubble. Californians face an $8 billion state budget deficit, high unemployment and struggling schools.
Schwarzenegger created a stir when he arrived with his wife, Maria Shriver, at a polling place at a Pacific Palisades mansion. Hundreds of reporters and photographers were there to greet them.
Schwarzenegger said he had to put on his glasses to read the ballot, which was several pages long, but had no trouble finding his own name.
"I just went through the pages," he said. "Instead of going through two pages, I just went through 10 pages, and you always look for the longest name."
Davis, accompanied by Jesse Jackson, arrived at his own Sacramento-area polling place at around 2:30 p.m. to cast his vote.
"I feel absolutely terrific," Davis said. "I have always trusted the voters of California and I know they're going to do the right thing today." When asked who he voted for, he said he chose the "most qualified person ... and you can probably figure out who that is."
Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock (search) showed up at a Thousand Oaks polling station to vote around 8:30 a.m., urging citizens to "simply vote your conscience. ... If everybody who believes I am the best qualified votes for me, we will have an upset tonight."
An upbeat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) arrived at his polling place in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove shortly after 9 a.m.
"This is what it's all about, getting out to vote," said Bustamante, the leading Democratic candidate to replace Davis.
Bustamante earned a favorable rating of 38 percent of the voters while 57 percent had an unfavorable view of him, according to Fox News exit polling. When asked who they wanted as their next governor if Davis is recalled, 53 percent of Hispanics favored Bustamante while 31 percent opted for Schwarzenegger, the exit polling showed.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the wealthy Republican congressman who bankrolled the recall campaign but abandoned an effort to run for governor himself, said he would consider his effort a success even if the recall fails.
"We're going to have record turnout, record involvement by the people of California, and when record numbers vote, America wins," Issa said after casting his ballot at his polling place in Vista.
At the Polls
Although more than 2 million people voted by absentee ballot, long lines were seen throughout the state, a result in part by the consolidation of polling places to accommodate the short time officials had to prepare for the vote.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley didn't estimate the turnout because this election has no precedent, but his office reported last week that a record number of voters for a gubernatorial race — 15,380,526 — were registered for Tuesday's vote.
The most recent voter surveys suggest that a majority of voters favor dumping Davis, who was re-elected less than a year ago, while Schwarzenegger has emerged as the leading replacement candidate, despite continuing allegations that the former Mr. Universe has groped and sexually harassed as many as 16 women over the last three decades.
A Democratic polling firm that conducts surveys for one of California's most powerful unions privately predicted Monday that Schwarzenegger would soon be governor, two top Democratic sources told Fox News.
The survey predicted that Schwarzenegger would get 41 percent of the vote, Bustamante 34 percent, McClintock 16 percent and Green Party nominee Peter Camejo 6 percent.
One of the sources said the recall would be approved with at 56 percent of the vote, with Davis' support at between 42 percent and 44 percent. Another top Democratic strategist said it had become accepted wisdom among Democratic insiders that Davis would lose.
"Davis has had very serious problems from the very beginning, and those problems have never gone away," Democratic strategist Darry Sragow told Fox News. "The confusing message of 'no' on recall and 'yes' on Bustamante never quite worked with Democrats. It was always a tough message to sell."
Davis on the Downturn?
Democratic sources told Fox News that Davis's team had asked all the major Democratic 2004 presidential candidates to come to California on Monday to attend a final party unity rally to put the "no" recall vote over the top.
Three Democratic candidates, fearful that Davis might be reading too much into a one-night tightening in the polls, checked with other Democratic consultants, who told them to steer away.
"We're close, we've gotten closer but something tells me we may well fall just a bit short," a top adviser to Bustamante told Fox News.
Two other ballot measures also will be decided Tuesday: Proposition 53 (search), which would steer 1 percent of the state annual budget to fix California's roads, bridges and sewage plants, and Proposition 54 (search), which would ban the state from using race, ethnicity or national origin to classify people in public education, contracting and employment.
Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.