SACRAMENTO – Democratic Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante (search) conceded defeat in the recall election Tuesday, but said the vote against Proposition 54, the ballot initiative that would bar the collection of race statistics, was even more important than the recall itself.
“We have something to celebrate tonight. We have this victory on Proposition 54 (search),” Bustamante told his supporters in Sacramento.
With his supporters cheering, an observer might be surprised to know that Bustamante had been defeated by an overwhelming margin and his party had been thrown out of the governor’s seat.
Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger received 50 percent of the vote with a third of precincts reporting, while Bustamante, the only mainstream Democratic candidate to replace Gov. Gray Davis, received 30 percent of the vote.
Bustamante was surrounded by supporters at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in a room filled with red, white and blue balloons and rotating star-shaped lights. Among those surrounding him were many Native American leaders, whom he thanked by name. Almost dismissive of the importance of the governor’s race, Bustamante spoke triumphantly about Prop. 54, and said of the recall vote, “We’re going to have a little bit more to say about that later.”
The 50-year-old grandson of Mexican immigrant field workers, Bustamante sought to become only the second Hispanic governor since California gained statehood in 1850.
"I am appalled," said Bustamante supporter Karen Gaul, 41, of Bakersfield. "I don't know what else to say. It's horrifying that people are so gullible and taken in by celebrities. It's form over substance and flash over anything that resembles responsible government."
The lieutenant governor will remain in his position once Schwarzenegger takes over as governor. Bustamante said he was willing to work with his Republican rival as long as Schwarzenegger was willing to roll up his sleeves and address the state's serious problems.
"I can work with just about anybody," he said. "I'll work with him."
Bustamante’s camp was somber and subdued prior to the candidate’s appearance, but he managed to energize the crowd about the outcome of the ballot initiative.
Likewise, Republican candidate Tom McClintock (search), who conceded less than an hour after the polls closed, took a triumphant stand in the face of defeat.
“This is a great day for California. History will record that on this day, in response to a common danger, the citizens of California rose to their common duties and ordered a new” direction for the state, McClintock said at his post-election party in Sacramento.
In early returns, McClintock received 13 percent of the vote.
To a cheering audience the state senator said that it was a great honor to have been part of this campaign. He claimed victory in having much of his agenda -- lowering taxes, cutting the state bureaucracy and improving public works -- adopted by other candidates and “the vast majority of Californians.”
Although McClintock trailed badly in the polls throughout the recall race, he refused to withdraw from the contest. McClintock’s camp said he received many phone calls thanking him for staying in the race, giving conservatives someone to support.
McClintock, who received high approval ratings in the polls, has now become a statewide conservative figure. He did not rule out a future gubernatorial bid.
Fox News' Claudia Cowan and Anita Vogel contributed to this report.