A new opinion poll confirmed Arnold Schwarzenegger as the front-runner in the campaign for the California governorship today, hours after one of his rivals dropped out of the race.
The Los Angeles Times poll found that 40% of likely voters favoured the Republican movie star, with closest rival, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, on 32%.
Although the poll gives a boost to Democrat Bustamante, who was at 25% in another recent survey, it scotches claims that the last set of figures – putting Arnie ahead with the same level of support was a mere blip.
Before Schwarzenegger can take on his electoral rivals, Californians must first vote to remove from office the current Governor, Democrat Gray Davis.
Mr Davis needs 50% of voters to oppose that motion but the LA Times poll, and the weekend CNN/USA Today poll found that to be unlikely.
He has faced fierce criticism for leading the state into a massive budget deficit and an energy crisis.
Ballots in the so-called recall vote will be cast on October 7.
Earlier, former Cambridge Union President and columnist Arianna Huffington pulled out of the race vowing to “concentrate every ounce of time and energy” on preventing Schwarzenegger winning office.
Independent Huffington clashed with 56-year-old Schwarzenegger during a live debate last week when he said he had a “perfect part” for her in the next Terminator movie.
The 53-year-old Greek-born political and social commentator took the remark to mean he wanted to force her head into a toilet bowl a fate the Terminator once visited on a female enemy robot.
She has repeatedly questioned his attitude towards women, accusing him of misogyny.
Announcing her withdrawal on CNN’s Larry King Live show, she softened slightly, saying: “Arnold Schwarzenegger is a charming man, he is a nice man but really he has no idea how to run a state.”
She accused him of being a puppet of big business, saying: “He is going to be run by the very forces that basically have destroyed so much of California.”
Huffington, formerly Stassinopoulos, who is divorced from oil millionaire Michael Huffington, has been described as the “Sir Edmund Hillary of social climbers” and “the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus“.
The other top candidates are Republican state Senator Tom McClintock who polled in the LA Times at 15% and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo with 3%. Both figures represent a slide since the weekend. Huffington was polling at only 2%.
In all there are 135 candidates standing for election if Mr Davis is recalled including a porn star and Gary Coleman, the former child actor in the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes.