Californians were voting for their next Governor tonight, with Arnold Schwarzenegger hoping his campaign would not be derailed by sex claims.
Schwarzenegger remains the frontrunner but his bid has lost momentum in recent days amid allegations he is a serial groper who once said he admired Hitler.
The Republican Terminator star appeared tired but upbeat as he and his wife Maria Shriver cast their own ballots. Asked how it felt voting for himself he said: “It is cool.”
Shortly after the polls opened, President George Bush praised Schwarzenegger.
Answering reporters’ questions he said: “He has obviously waged a spirited campaign. He has captured a lot of people’s imagination.
“The people of California are going to speak and I look forward to seeing what the results are.”
But he added: “I may not stay up for the whole night.”
In a two-part vote, Californians first have to decide whether to “recall” current Governor, Democrat Gray Davis, who is accused of mismanaging the state economy.
On the same ballot paper, voters then choose who they want to replace him.
More than two million people have already voted by absentee ballot and the massive interest in the election is set to lead to a large turnout.
A record number of voters for a Governorship race – 15,380,526 are registered.
Among the voting methods are touch-screen computers at polling stations and punch cards, whose “hanging chads” caused so much controversy at the last Presidential election.
Last-minute polls suggested Schwarzenegger was still the favourite to win if Mr Davis is recalled.
But the appetite to remove Mr Davis seems to be on the decline.
Barring complications, delays or last minute legal challenges the election result should be known in the early hours of tomorrow.
If Davis is replaced there will be a period of several weeks before his successor takes office.
The latest allegation against Schwarzenegger came from stunt woman Rhonda Miller who said he pulled up her top and photographer her breasts in the early 1990s.
More than a dozen other women have come forward in recent days to accuse Schwarzenegger of groping them at various times over the last three decades.
Among his accusers was British TV presenter Anna Richardson.
Schwarzenegger’s opponents are capitalising on the claims.
Mr Davis has already described the alleged events as “crimes”.
He called for a prosecutor to be appointed to review the claims and determine whether they are true.
Schwarzenegger’s closest rival if Mr Davis is thrown out of office, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, said: “If that had been my daughter it wouldn’t have taken an election to resolve it.
“It would have been up close and personal. We would have resolved it real quick.”
The last independent poll was published on Sunday, for Knight Ridder, finding that 54% of voters wanted to recall Davis, while 41% were against. If more than 50% vote for recall, Davis will be ousted.
The Davis campaign said its latest tracking survey of 1,200 likely voters found a 50% to 48% split between those favouring a “yes” vote on the recall and those planning to vote “no.”
Such a position made the outcome too close to call.
The Knight Ridder poll also found that Schwarzenegger was seven points ahead of Bustamante.
Amid the damaging sex allegations Schwarzenegger has accused his opposition of dirty tricks.
But he has apologised for “offensive” behaviour towards some women in the past, which he blamed on the culture of “rowdy movie sets”.
He has also denied making pro-Hitler claims during the filming of a 1970s documentary. The alleged comments were never aired.
The other main candidates in the race are Republican state Senator Tom McClintock and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo with, who have been lagging in the polls.
In all there are 135 candidates standing for election if Mr Davis is recalled, including Gary Coleman, the former child actor in the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, and porn baron Larry Flint.
Polls close at 11pm Tuesday Eastern Time, 4am British Summer Time, Wednesday.