Terminator star snubs debate challenge

Embattled California governor Gray Davis challenged Arnold Schwarzenegger in vain to a debate “right here, right now”, accusing the Terminator star of distorting his record.

Embattled California governor Gray Davis challenged Arnold Schwarzenegger in vain to a debate “right here, right now”, accusing the Terminator star of distorting his record.

The Schwarzenegger campaign declined.

Davis’ challenge was the most direct confrontation the governor has made during the campaign leading up to the October 7 recall election and came as his campaign planned to air his first television ad attacking Schwarzenegger in the final week and a half of the campaign.

“Mr Schwarzenegger is wrong. He is mischaracterising the facts and running down this great state,” Davis said at a rally aimed at building support among women. He accused Schwarzenegger of misrepresenting his record on such issues as taxes, health care and jobs and of mis-stating facts about California’s problems.

Schwarzenegger would refuse the challenge, campaign spokesman Sean Walsh said.

“Our campaign has to convince the public that of the individuals who will replace Gray Davis, we have the vision, we have the discipline and we have the popular will to change California,” Walsh said. “So, sorry, Gray, you are on your own, pal.”

Since Wednesday’s debate featuring the five leading candidates seeking Davis’ job, the governor has begun to campaign hard against Schwarzenegger, increasingly shaping the unprecedented recall election, with 135 candidates, into a traditional choice between two candidates.

Schwarzenegger continued to build on the momentum of Republican support that followed his sole debate performance, winning the backing of Congressman Darrell Issa, the Republican who bankrolled the recall effort.

Issa’s announcement appeared to have little effect on state Senator Tom McClintock, the only other prominent Republican still in the race. Republican leaders fear Schwarzenegger and McClintock could split the Republican vote, throwing the election to Democrat Lt Gov. Cruz Bustamante if Davis is recalled.

McClintock showed no sign of backing out yesterday as he unveiled a new campaign ad.

“I would not be in this race if I did not believe I could win,” McClintock said. “You all know a lot can happen in the final days of a campaign. I’m the one moving up and gaining very rapidly, from what I’ve been told.”

Davis’ rally among women came as some questioned whether Schwarzenegger’s aggressive performance during Wednesday night’s debate would alienate women voters. During the debate, the action star traded one-liners and insults with independent Arianna Huffington.

Huffington said it showed a pattern of treating women badly, an allegation Schwarzenegger’s aides dismissed. She told reporters after a rally in Fresno that she had received thousands of e-mails from women applauding her defence against Schwarzenegger’s volleys.

At his West Hollywood rally, Davis was introduced by former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who called on Davis not to let Schwarzenegger’s statements go unchallenged.

“I think you’re going to have to call him out,” she declared.

Davis was also buoyed by New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who briefly addressed the crowd by phone.

“I hope you all will vote no on the recall,” she said. ”Let’s make it absolutely clear that California is not going to be stampeded by the same right-wingers who gave us the election in Florida.”

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