LOS ANGELES – Tuesday's historic election in California may be the first time voters in the state have recalled a sitting governor, but it is not the first time a Republican actor has been elected to solve the state's problems.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), who pulled off a Hollywood ending to his campaign for governor, now has the task ahead of him of fixing the crises that put Gov. Gray Davis (search) out of a job. And while he won't have Hollywood's special effects, he will have some Reagan Republicans backing him.
"[Schwarzenegger] at his core is a fiscal conservative. He is a Republican in the best sense of the word," said Rep. David Dreier, a Schwarzenegger adviser.
"Tomorrow, the hard work begins," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday night, reveling in his overwhelming victory.
"We have tough choices ahead. The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success. Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create even deeper divisions and fail the people of California? Well, let me tell you something: the answer is clear. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose," he said.
In poll returns late Tuesday, Schwarzenegger had received 48 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and 13 percent for Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.
Voters chose to oust Davis by 54 to 46 percent, incomplete election returns showed.
Immediately after the results appeared certain, comparisons began between Tinseltown's highest-paid muscle man and the former actor-turned-governor-turned-U.S. president, Ronald Reagan (search).
Like Reagan, Schwarzenegger campaigned on a promise to restore public confidence in government. Both declared themselves outsiders who wanted to trim spending.
And like Reagan, whose devotion to his wife Nancy was well known, in making his victory speech Tuesday, Schwarzenegger turned first to his wife, Maria Shriver.
"I know how many votes I got today because of you," Schwarzenegger said looking to Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan.
In the ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel, the same room where Reagan gave his presidential victory speech more than 20 years ago, a flawlessly put-together Schwarzenegger also thanked his supporters for their efforts to get out the vote. In his thick, Austrian accent that millions across the world have learned to decipher from his dozens of films, Schwarzenegger thanked the state at which he first arrived in 1970.
"From the time I came over to this country, you have opened up your arms to me, you have received me, you have given me opportunities, endless opportunities, every thing that I have," the 56-year-old former Mr. Universe told a roaring crowd. "I came here with absolutely nothing and California gave me absolutely everything, and today California has given me the greatest gift of all, you have given me your trust.
"I will do everything I can to live up to that trust. I will not fail you, I will not disappoint you and I will not let you down," he said to a large crowd of supporters that observers said included nearly as many Democrats as Republicans if one counts all the Kennedys that had congregated.
A 100-Day Honeymoon?
But the Kennedy contingent aside, Democrats are already sniffing for blood. Now that a successful recall has been launched after 31 attempts in the state, Democrats are talking about recalling Schwarzenegger. California Democratic Party consultant Bob Mulholland said he was considering organizing a retaliatory recall if Schwarzenegger does not demonstrate solutions in the first 100 days.
Rainbow/PUSH head Jesse Jackson (search), who has campaigned with Davis repeatedly for the last several weeks, announced that a challenge to the results was likely, since voters were disenfranchised by the speedy race that forced polling places to be condensed.
"To reduce [the number of polling places] by two thirds and consolidate, there are thousands of people who are disenfranchised," Jackson said.
But some Democrats recognized that voter dislike of Davis trumped any legal maneuvering.
"I think what we saw today in California was really an anti-incumbent sentiment strongly expressed," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Davis discouraged any future recall attempts, saying it was time to "put the chaos and division of the recall behind us and do what's right for the state of California.
"I have placed a call to Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger just a few minutes ago to congratulate him on being elected governor," Davis said from the ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, where he celebrated his first gubernatorial election victory five years earlier. His concession speech came at close to 10 p.m. PDT, not quite two hours after the polls closed.
Speaking over boos from the crowd, Davis said he had offered his full support to Schwarzenegger's transition team, as is customary when governors pass the torch.
Later, talking to his supporters, Schwarzenegger said he had received a "gracious call" from Davis. As Schwarzenegger supporters emitted groans, reflecting the two-man contest the race had become in its closing days, the governor-elect said he vowed that his transition team would treat Davis' team with the "utmost of respect."
Dreier will be Schwarzenegger's transition team chairman. Jim Richardson, chief of staff to California State Sen. Jim Brulte, an early Schwarzenegger supporter, will become Schwarzenegger's transition director.
Analysts say it remains to be seen whether former rivals will accept Schwarzenegger's promise of an "olive branch of political reconciliation."
"What I think is interesting is that Gray Davis was very gracious tonight," said USC political science professor Susan Estrich. "They weren't as gracious at the Democratic headquarters but Davis himself was gracious. He at least has sent a temporary message of cooperation and I think the fear has been among Democrats that if Arnold won, some of the angrier heads would prevail and we would have a recall starting tomorrow. The rumor up in Sacramento today was that some of the women were so angry, they were ready to start a march on the capital today."
Indeed, the graciousness Davis demonstrated was not universal. McClintock took partial credit for Schwarzenegger's win, saying in a concession speech around 8:58 p.m. PDT that the other candidates had adopted fiscal policies first promoted by McClintock.
"I believe that our campaign acted as the conscience of this election, that we framed the issues on which this contest was ultimately decided," he said.
Despite an earlier speech in which he declared victory in the defeat of Proposition 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative, Bustamante waited to concede until Schwarzenegger spoke to announce his victory.
Bustamante, who will be Schwarzenegger's lieutenant in the newly-formed administration, said he would be willing to work with Schwarzenegger as long as the governor-elect shows real commitment to bettering Californians' lives.
"I mean really work hard, I mean really roll up the sleeves, not just picture-taking, not movie sets, not scripts, I mean really do the hard work of getting the work done on behalf of people," Bustamante said. "If Schwarzenegger does that, I will work with him."
Bustamante's political future, however, also remains uncertain. While he will remain in the office across the hall from Schwarzenegger, many in his party, including Davis, are privately fuming over his August entry into the replacement election. Bustamante is blamed by some for the recall's success, which critics say was sealed when Bustamante refused to distance himself from a separatist Latino student movement and funneled millions from Indian tribe donations to defunct campaign accounts.
Many Forms of Hard Work
But Schwarzenegger was not backing away from Bustamante's challenge. Though he won't take office right away -- counties have 28 days to turn in election tallies and another seven days to certify the results -- Schwarzenegger said he plans to reach out to voters from all parties, to those who opposed the recall and to the legislators in Sacramento, whom he must now cajole into making some tough decisions.
Barring legal challenges, the governor-elect will be inaugurated by Nov. 16. He will have control over 1,100 state jobs, including 13 Cabinet heads, dozens of department chiefs and hundreds of top executives and deputies. He will also have to submit a budget to the Democratic-led Legislature by Jan. 10.
Schwarzenegger will face a multi-billion dollar deficit, high unemployment, struggling schools and the pressure to live up to his campaign promise not to raise taxes or submit to special interests.
"You've got a lot of tough choices," said The Nation magazine editor David Corn, describing Schwarzenegger's challenges. "You have until Jan. 1 to deal with a budget issue here and that means cutting programs or raising taxes. You say you're not going to do that. You say you're going to get rid of the car tax, which only puts you deeper in the hole."
Schwarzenegger will likely also continue to face accusations from women that he improperly touched them. The claims by 16 women came late in the campaign, and while they were said to be a political ploy, the Democratic state attorney general has suggested an investigation.
But supporters say Schwarzenegger will succeed if he does what he promised to do in the campaign.
"I think that the people of California, not just the Republican Party, said they wanted a winner, and their idea of a winner is someone who can lead us, see that we do not spend more than we take in and will not increase taxes to grow government," said former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a Schwarzenegger adviser. "[Schwarzenegger] has to understand, as he does very clearly, that we're going to have to live within our income ... and we're going to have pare down the accumulated debt of the previous administration."
"Pick the best and the brightest people you can find and then empower them to make the changes necessary in California. Do not micromanage the office," said former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
And if he falters, Jay Leno, whose "Tonight Show" was the forum in which Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy, said he can always come back to the set.
"Tonight is a testament on how important one appearance on 'The Tonight Show' can be," Leno said.