California 2003 Gubernatorial recall election

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The California 2003 Gubernatorial recall election was held on October 7, 2003: "California voters will be allowed to cast a ballot for a potential successor to Gov. Gray Davis even if they do not vote on whether he should be removed from office, a federal judge ruled ... in striking down part of California's recall law. The ruling will not stop the Oct. 7 recall election to remove Davis."

55.4% of the electorate voted to recall Davis, a Democrat. 48.6% of the people selected Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger over 134 other candidates to replace Davis as Governor. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante received 31.5% of the vote while 13.5% of Californians supported Republican State Senator Tom McClintock.


On August 7, 2003, The Washington Post quipped "Schwarzenegger adds his muscle to California gubernatorial race":

California's bizarre recall election turned even stranger Wednesday when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped into the race -- announcing his Republican candidacy to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show -- hours after Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she would not be a candidate to replace fellow Democrat Gov. Gray Davis.

On a day that saw author and columnist Arianna Huffington also announce she would run[1] as a "populist progressive" and actor Gary Coleman pay the $3,500 fee to throw his hat into the ring, Schwarzenegger's decision made an already complicated recall race even more complex. Some 400 people have registered with the secretary of state's office as potential candidates to become governor if Californians vote to oust Davis.

In a move reminiscent for some of another actor, Ronald Reagan, who was twice elected governor of California, Schwarzenegger said he would be putting his movie career on hold so he can devote his time to running for governor.

It punctuated an already odd day in U.S. politics, with TV talk show host Jerry Springer telling voters in Ohio he won't run for U.S. Senate. And in New York, former Gov. Mario Cuomo urged former Vice President Al Gore to reconsider a bid for the Democratic presidential nominee. Gore's people said it won't happen.

"I have defended California in season and out, but I'm throwing in the towel this time," says Kevin Starr, the State Librarian and author of several books on California history. "We sort of deserve it this time, don't we? You've got a leading candidate deciding or not deciding on Leno. This is a society melting down into deliberate self-parody."

With the extraordinary race capturing national attention amid a carnival atmosphere, an embattled Davis issued a statement dismissing Schwarzenegger as just the latest in a long list of people who had declared their candidacy, noting that the field even included Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

Feinstein said in a statement that Davis had been elected just nine months ago and should be allowed to finish his term.

"After thinking a great deal about this recall, its implications for the future, and its misguided nature, I have decided that I will not place my name on the ballot," she said.

Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante announced late Wednesday he plans to run in the state's gubernatorial recall election, becoming the first prominent Democrat to abandon Davis' efforts to keep fellow party members off the ballot.

Combined with strong support from organized labor, Davis had appeared to be gaining support for his strategy to defeat the recall proponents. He won ringing endorsements[2] from the AFL-CIO on Tuesday and then saw Feinstein refuse to run, a move that Davis and organized labor had urged.

But as the day wore on, several state officeholders were weighing a jump into the race. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said Tuesday that she might run if Feinstein did not. The deadline for candidates to enter the race is Saturday.

It was unclear Wednesday night if Schwarzenegger had a last-minute change of heart about running, or had engineered an elaborate ruse to fool Davis and other candidates who are contemplating campaigns into thinking that they did not have to worry about him.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, another moderate Republican, has said he would enter the race if Schwarzenegger did not, and polls have shown Riordan would be a stronger candidate than the actor.

Schwarzenegger had dropped hints all summer about his ambition to be governor, and had assembled an informal campaign team that had been taking polls and polishing his stands on a range of issues in California.

But his aides also had said repeatedly over the past two weeks that he was unlikely to run because his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver, was objecting to the burdens a campaign would impose on their family.

During his appearance on The Tonight Show, Schwarzenegger said that he thought politicians in the state were failing Californians. More than a decade after he starred in the action flick Total Recall, Schwarzenegger noted that 1.6 million people had signed petitions that led to the recall vote.

Harkening to a well-known phrase from his Terminator movies, he said the message to politicians was: "Do your job well or hasta la vista, baby."

After his appearance with Leno, Schwarzenegger told reporters that his decision to run was "the most difficult decision of my life. I felt in the end it was my duty to jump into the race. People are sick and tired of politicians."

The oddity of the recall -- being used for the first time against a California officeholder -- has spawned a profusion of candidates, including Flynt, billboard pinup Angelyne and an 18-year-old high school student. Their entrance has enabled the Davis campaign to portray the recall as a circus, a framing that Feinstein echoed Wednesday.

"This is the political equivalent of streaking: You show up, you run across the room naked and you get attention," said Stan Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Business Council.

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  • 22 July 2003: "The California Gubernatorial Recall Debate and the Courts: Why Litigation Has Begun (and Likely Will Continue)" by Richard L. Hasen, FindLaw.com.
  • 2 August 2003: "California 2003, Gubernatorial Recall Election, Information and Opinion."
  • 13 August 2003: "Dems Edge GOP in Calif. Recall Candidates" by Jim Wasserman, AP News.