Davis, an embattled Democrat who was reelected in November with less than 50 percent of the vote, conceded defeat, telling supporters he had accepted the decision of the state’s voters.
“Tonight the people did decide it is time for someone else to serve and I accept their judgment,” Davis told supporters, “and I have placed a call to Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger just a few minutes ago to congratulate him on being elected governor and extended my best wishes.”
Exit polling projected that some 55 percent of voters backed the recall of the governor, but Davis stressed it was time to move beyond the political fighting.
“In the next few weeks we will have a new governor,” Davis said, at times calming a crowd that called for a recall of Schwarzenegger. “I am calling on everyone in this state to put the chaos and division of the recall behind us and do what’s right for this great state of California.”
In addition to voting to oust Davis, voters overwhelmingly backed the candidacy of action film star and Republican activist Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Shortly after Davis conceded, Schwarzenegger appeared before a raucous crowd to deliver his victory address, promising, “I will not fail you. I will not disappoint you and I will not let you down.”
“Everything I have is because of California,” Schwarzenegger said, in claiming victory. “I came here with absolutely nothing, and California has given me absolutely everything. And today, California has given me the greatest gift of all, you have given me your trust by voting for me.”
Schwarzenegger prevailed in the election despite a flurry of news stories outlining allegations that the Austrian-born actor had groped some dozen women and accusations that as a young man he expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Analysts said the results reflected a generalized anger at failed policies of the entire political system in the state capital of Sacramento.
“I think this is a case of misdirected anger, but a valid anger nonetheless,” Janet Clayton, editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, told CNN.
Within an hour of the polls closing, candidates began offering concession speeches and pledging to work with the Governor-elect Schwarzenegger.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamente, who will retain his position in the new administration, conceded his defeat, but also pledged to work with the new governor.
Declaring it “a great day for California,” state Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative Republican who refused to drop out of the race despite urging from fellow party members, told supporters at 9 p.m. PDT that he had called Schwarzenegger and “pledged to him my wholehearted support.”
“In response to a common danger, the people of California rose to their duties and ordered a new direction for our state,” McClintock said.
But some officials warned that new governor would still face massive challenges.
Schwarzenegger will be “dealing with two political parties that are at each other’s throats. He’s dealing with a very large deficit, the largest of any state in the history of America. And he’s dealing with an economy which is highly uncertain. He’s got determination, and he’s going to need every ounce of it, because this is truly a very challenging situation,” Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, former California governor, told the Associated Press.
More than 60 percent of the voters, far more than the 51 percent that voted to reelect Davis in November 2002, cast ballots in the special election.
Given the volume of absentee votes and complexity of the ballot, state officials said it would likely take several weeks to officially certify the results.
Despite the delay in the official returns, all television news networks were quick to declare the projected results. News organizations hired the Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International to conduct a widespread, 2,800-person exit poll to gauge the results.
Also in Tuesday’s election, voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 54 which would have banned the collection or analysis of racial information in public education, contracting and employment. The proposal, which supporters said would help create a colorblind society and opponents charge is an attack on anti-discrimination policies, would have been the first of its kind in the nation.