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Arnold Poised To Terminate Davis

Two days before the California recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger remains the clear frontrunner, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

If the polls hold true, the former muscleman and movie tough guy will be the next governor of the most populous state in the nation.

Still, the most recent polls came before Schwarzenegger apologized in the wake of allegations he groped or fondled nearly a dozen women over the last three decades, saying, "I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true."

Media analyst Kaplan says Schwarzenegger's rise speaks to the power of fame. "It suggests that celebrity is a kind of primal force that reaches into the lizard part of our brains. We can't help being attracted by fame."

"He is the perfect convergence of theater, show business, politics and journalism toward which we've been moving."

From the outset, this unconventional election has defied conventional political wisdom. Schwarzenegger entered the race on late night television. The ballot lists 135 candidates, some serious, most out to make personal history. The election was nearly derailed because of the Florida-style punch card ballots that will be used.

Schwarzenegger deflected tough questions on the stump, and emerged from the lone debate he agreed to as a champion of one-liners.

He told one opponent: "I just realized that I have a perfect part for you in Terminator Four."

In a stump speech he said, "He has terminated hope. He has terminated opportunity. And now it is time we terminate Gray Davis."

Other candidates dropped out, or dropped down in the polls, and it became a two-man race.

Gov. Gray Davis, fighting for his political life, tells audiences, "The bottom line is that in life there is no free lunch. You are going to have to tell us Mister Schwarzenegger: How are you going to make this budget work?"

It was the state budget crisis that fueled the recall fever, when Davis revealed soon after his reelection last year that the state had a $38 billion budget deficit.

A Davis decision to triple the car tax to increase revenues backfired, and was quickly exploited by Schwarzenegger, who tells audiences, "Hasta la vista baby to the car tax."

Republican analyst Arnold Steinberg says of Schwarzenegger: "This is a kick ass kind of guy. This is a guy who gets things done."

"He seems like the kind of guy who will go to Sacramento and take charge. So in effect the movie persona that he has had seems to go beyond the fantasy into reality here."

The latest polls indicate both the recall and the actor winning by margins of 10 to 15 points against the profoundly unpopular incumbent.

Field poll analyst Mark Dicamillo says, "We've never seen this kind of 70 percent disapproval levels in any previous governors. In fact the only comparable personality, in terms of the field poll measure, is that of Richard Nixon back in 1973 right before his resignation."

Kaplan, the media analyst, says, "In California the governor, if he's low in the polls, is vulnerable to being canceled in the same way a sitcom that's low in the ratings can be canceled. If they're not performing, sayonara."

The Austrian-born actor, whose father was a Nazi, has also faced charges that he once said he admired Adolph Hitler's rise to power. He said he doesn't recall ever saying that, adding, "I despise absolutely everything he stood for."

"People are now attacking me with women stuff. They're attacking me with Hitler stuff because they want to destroy my campaign," Schwarzenegger says.

Yesterday, one newspaper withdrew its endorsement. What Schwarzenegger calls "the woman stuff" is not going away. But will it sway voters?

Steinberg, the Republican analyst, doesn't think so. He says, "The closer and closer to the end we get, people want to validate their opinions, they don't want to have anything that goes against them, and they are very, very skeptical of last minute charges."

But after the excitement is over, if Schwarzenegger wins or Davis pulls a political Houdini, Californians will awake the day after with a fiscal hangover. They will still face with the prospect of painful program cuts or tax increases to tame the budget monster -- something the recall can't make disappear.