SACRAMENTO — Arnold Schwarzenegger struggled to put sexual harassment allegations behind him Monday as a new poll indicated some voters were having second thoughts about recalling Gov. Gray Davis.
“The campaign is not losing momentum,” Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Karen Hanretty told CBS’ The Early Show. A four-day bus tour of the state that Schwarzenegger concluded in Sacramento on Sunday had drawn thousands of enthusiastic supporters.
A poll of 1,000 registered voters, conducted by Elway-McGuire Research for Knight Ridder from Wednesday through Saturday, found the percentage of people saying they would definitely vote to oust Davis dropped from 52 percent Wednesday to 44 percent Saturday. The poll had an overall margin of error of 3 percentage points, but the margin of error for individual days was not given.
The poll also showed Schwarzenegger’s lead over Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to replace Davis narrowing slightly from an earlier survey.
The shift followed allegations from 15 women that Schwarzenegger had groped and verbally harassed them during encounters dating to the early 1970s and as recently as 2000.
On Monday, the last full day of campaigning, Schwarzenegger began his day in San Jose, where he was introduced to a cheering, placard-waving crowd by his wife, Maria Shriver, who called him “the example of a great public servant.”
As he stood flanked by several women supporters, Schwarzenegger made no mention of the allegations during his 10-minute speech. Instead, he praised California for giving him a chance when he arrived in this country from Austria and said Davis’ policies had damaged the state.
“Look what this administration has done these last five years to us … they’re chasing jobs and businesses out of the state and now it is time we chase Gray Davis out of Sacramento,” he said.
Davis appeared in Sacramento before a group of students, most too young to vote, and accused Schwarzenegger of distorting his record.
“My opponent, Mr. Schwarzenegger, complains that we’re 27th in the country in school spending. When I took office from my Republican predecessor, Pete Wilson, we were 43rd,” he said.
Schwarzenegger has acknowledged and apologized for having “behaved badly” toward women in the past, but he blamed the allegations on last-minute dirty campaign tricks and said some of them are flatly untrue. He has not discussed most of the allegations specifically and said he won’t until after the campaign.
“I can get into all of the specifics and find out what is really going on. But right now, I’m just really occupied with the campaign,” he told Dateline NBC on Sunday.
He told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that he couldn’t remember many details connected to allegations going back more than 15 years but said they could have been true.
“It doesn’t make any sense to go through details here with you. What is important is that I cannot remember what was happening 20 years ago, 15 years ago. But some of the things sound like me, which I was the first one to come out and say, you know, some of the things could have happened, I want to apologize to the people if I have offended anyone because that was not my intention,” he said.
“No one ever came to me in my life and said to me that I did anything, that said ‘I don’t want you to do that. You went over the line, Arnold.”‘
Bustamante, who began Monday at a rally in East Los Angeles, said he believed the sexual harassment allegations were hurting Schwarzenegger’s campaign.
“I think this is a very serious situation that we have right now and, you know, one surprise after another with this guy. I think we’ve probably had one too many surprises,” he said after addressing a rally of about 100 supporters, including Christine Chavez, the granddaughter of the late United Farmworkers union co-founder Cesar Chavez.
State Sen. Tom McClintock told MSNBC on Monday that he remained skeptical of the allegations because they came so close to the election.
“The conduct that is alleged is reprehensible, and I’m afraid the voters are just going to have to sort through the facts as best they can in the days remaining,” he said.
Hanretty didn’t answer directly when asked if any of the women had lied. Instead, she accused the Los Angeles Times, which first broke the story of the allegations, of not investigating their claims thoroughly.
“Excuse me, but the L.A. Times failed to investigate a lot of these women,” she said, adding that at least one of the women had contributed to independent candidate Arianna Huffington’s campaign.
On Sunday, Davis demanded Schwarzenegger give a full explanation of the allegations before Tuesday’s vote, and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, said the Republican actor should volunteer for a state investigation whether or not he is elected governor.
Lockyer also noted the one-year statute of limitations for sexual battery has expired on all the complaints.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman accused Lockyer of engaging in the sort of “puke politics” the attorney general had earlier warned Davis to avoid.
Davis used the power of incumbency to create news Sunday, signing a law making California the largest state to require employer-paid health care for an estimated 1.1 million working Californians currently without job-based coverage.