LOS ANGELES - Gov. Gray Davis, two days from possibly becoming the first California governor recalled in midterm, stopped just short yesterday of accusing actor Arnold Schwarzenegger of lying about women who've said he improperly touched them.
And after promising not to do so, the anti-recall campaign will begin a last-minute television commercial today featuring U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein that will make an issue of the sexual misconduct allegations.
“[The accusations] raise serious questions as to whether Mr. Schwarzenegger should be California's governor,” said Mr. Davis just before he signed a controversial bill in West Los Angeles requiring employers to provide basic health care benefits for their workers.
“I believe Mr. Schwarzenegger should deal with these accusations in detail, not through partial explanations, evasive answers, and partial denials,” he said. “The question gets down to this: Are all 15 women lying, or is Mr. Schwarzenegger not telling us the truth?”
The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported the stories of four more women, bringing the total to 15 who've alleged Mr. Schwarzenegger fondled their breasts, grabbed their buttocks, tried to undress them, or spanked them in separate incidents between 1975 and 2000. Most of the incidents allegedly occurred in gyms or on movie sets.
Mr. Schwarzenegger issued a general apology to women whom he may have offended after the first stories became public last week, saying he had “behaved badly” and attributed his conduct to “rowdy movie sets” and a playful attitude.
He has declined to discuss specific incidents, but has said some of the stories are not true.
‘‘I expected a lot of attacks,'' Mr. Schwarzenegger said last night in an interview with Dateline: NBC, the newsmagazine with which his wife, Maria Shriver, was associated.
‘‘I expected in some ways more, because they go into business background; they go into financial things, and about taxes,'' he said. "They throw everything at you ... I expected a lot of this, but there was an unusual amount of things thrown at me about women, stuff that I did not expect.
‘‘It's like they're really coming out of nowhere. That's kind of a surprise to me and it's also painful in many ways,'' he said. ‘‘You get shocked with that because you know a lot of the stuff is not true.''
Mr. Schwarzenegger also has said that previously unpublished statements attributed to him from a 1975 interview that led to the Pumping Iron documentary movie were taken out of context. He allegedly praised Adolf Hilter's speaking skills and said he admired how the dictator had risen from a poor background.
A fuller version showed he had added, “But I didn't admire him for what he did with it.” and “Yes, in Germany they used power and authority, but it was used in the wrong way.”
Mr. Schwarznegger yesterday brought his four-day California Comeback Express bus tour to an end at the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento. Exuding confidence, he brandished a broom as he declared, “We are here, ladies and gentlemen, to clean house!”
The battle of words between the candidates has become increasingly nasty since The Times reported the stories of the first six women accusing the bodybuilder-turned-actor of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Davis, who has a reputation for being negative late in elections, was cautious at first about directly using the accusations to his own advantage.
But as the Schwarzenegger campaign accused him of engaging in “puke politics,” an emboldened Mr. Davis has begun using the allegations in hopes of convincing Democrats who've defected to the Schwarzenegger camp to come home by tomorrow.
His campaign cited internal Democratic polls saying that the question of whether he should be removed from office is virtually dead even.
A Knight Ridder poll released late Saturday wasn't that generous, showing 54 percent of voters intent on recalling Mr. Davis and 41 percent voting “no.” The poll of 1,000 people has a margin of error of 3.2 percent.
A separate poll late last week, conducted before the Schwarzenegger allegations became public, had the pro-recall vote at 57 percent.
In the new poll, 36 percent support Mr. Schwarzenegger to replace Mr. Davis, seven points ahead of his closest competitor, Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Mr. Bustamante rallied with labor yesterday in Gardena outside Los Angeles.
“It seems in this eighth inning, if [today] is the ninth inning, that the response in the polls for Gray Davis is rising,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he campaigned with Mr. Davis.
“About 30 percent of Democrats, in their own anxiety and frustration, wanted to do a protest vote for whoever,” he said.
“They now know that is risky. They made that mistake with [Ralph] Nader and ended up getting [George W.] Bush rather than [Al] Gore [in 2000],” he added.
In the new TV ad, Ms. Feinstein tells viewers, “In recent days, serious allegations have surfaced with respect to the governor's opponent. We should all give this serious consideration.''