"I'm pulling out and I'm going to concentrate all my time and energy in the next week working to defeat the recall because I realize that's the only way to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger," Huffington said as she made the announcement on CNN's "Larry King Live."
Huffington's exit from the race mostly clears the way for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante — the Democrats' best hope of thwarting Schwarzenegger should Gov. Gray Davis lose the recall vote.
Huffington, a 53-year old columnist and TV pundit from Greece who made the transformation from Republican to fiery populist, had the support of just 2 percent of likely voters in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Sunday.
Huffington traded insults with Schwarzenegger during last week's debate and accused the action star and former bodybuilder of being a misogynist. Among other things, she has also attacked Schwarzenegger for driving a gas-guzzling Hummer and accused him of overstating California's economic troubles.
With less than a week remaining until the Oct. 7 election, the recall campaign has turned into a two-candidate race between Davis and Schwarzenegger.
In the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, 40 percent of likely voters supported the action hero and 25 percent backed Bustamante, a Democrat who is running in case Davis is recalled.
The poll showed that 63 percent of likely voters were in favor of removing Davis. Other polls, however, depict a much tighter race on the recall issue and among the replacement candidates.
Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock had 18 percent and has repeatedly vowed to stay in the race despite pressure to pull out to avoid splitting the Republican vote. Camejo, who had 5 percent, also said he has no intention of withdrawing.
At a campaign appearance Tuesday, Davis said he had praise for Huffington and wished her well.
"I think Arianna Huffington has brought some wisdom and some clarity to the second question on this ballot, and I believe she's made a contribution to the dialogue that has begun over these last 70 to 75 days," he said.
Huffington had repeatedly criticized Bustamante's acceptance of big campaign donations from Indian casino interests. But she called it "wonderful news" on Sunday when Bustamante made a surprise endorsement of her initiative to publicly finance state election campaigns.
"As you know, I believe in conversions, and I believe in redemption," said Huffington, who called herself a "recovering Republican" after her divorce from her husband, wealthy GOP Senate candidate Michael Huffington.
In recent days, the recall race has focused on the matchup between Davis and Schwarzenegger, the leading Republican replacement candidate.
GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock had 18 percent in the Gallup poll, but has repeatedly vowed to stay in the race despite pressure to pull out and avoid splitting the Republican vote.
The poll showed 63 percent of "probable" voters were in favor of removing Davis. Other polls, however, depict a much tighter race on the recall issue and among the replacement candidates.
Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, who had 5 percent in the Gallup poll, said Huffington called him Sunday to let him know she was considering getting out of the race.
"I advised her against it," said Camejo, who early in the campaign had an unofficial pact with Huffington calling for one of the two candidates to drop out if the other appeared close to victory.
Camejo said he has no intention of withdrawing himself.
Meanwhile, both the Davis and Schwarzenegger camps were planning major events to rally last-minute support.
Former President Clinton was expected to return to the state to campaign for Davis on Thursday, the same day Schwarzenegger planned to depart on a four-day, barnstorming bus tour beginning in San Diego.
Tuesday, Davis turned to the Democrats most reliable constituency, organized labor, accompanying Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to a get-out-the-vote phone bank.
"Mr. Schwarzenegger says organized labor is a special interest," Davis said to hisses from the union volunteers. "He's got part of that right. You are special. You are special to our future."
The governor also criticized a comment the actor made at a town hall meeting Monday night suggesting he might support eliminating the state Environmental Protection Agency because of its overlapping role with the federal environmental agency.
"We don't want to turn over our environment to the federal government," Davis said.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh said Davis' comment was "misleading," saying Schwarzenegger did not favor eliminating the California EPA but wants to make it more efficient and ensure it works closely with the federal EPA.
Later Tuesday, Davis signed legislation that he hailed as a complete overhaul of state workers' compensation rules.
"These bills will stop the skyrocketing increases in workers' compensation rates and start bringing them down," he said.
The spiraling cost of workers' compensation has emerged as a hot-button issue in the recall campaign, with Schwarzenegger and Republicans repeatedly claiming high costs are driving businesses from the state. Davis said the legislation will remove that issue from the table.
Annual workers' comp costs for businesses across the state have risen to $29 billion, climbing $20 billion over the past eight years. The overhaul, passed by the Legislature earlier this month, aims to cut as much as $6 billion.
During an appearance on KGO-AM in San Francisco Tuesday, Schwarzenegger attacked the workers' compensation package as not offering real reforms.
"What did it do? It didn't do a thing in order to decrease really the cost," Schwarzenegger said. "We've got to cut it back down so businesses can stay here and do business here."
The bodybuilder-turned-actor also responded for the first time publicly to Davis' repeated challenges to a one-on-one debate.
"The first item on the ballot is should we recall Gray Davis or not. This is between him and the people. ... He has to debate the people of California," Schwarzenegger said. "I don't have to debate with him."
Also Tuesday, state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland confirmed that officials would hold a conference call Wednesday to discuss funding possible legal challenges to the recall after the election.