Davis and Arnie slug it out for California

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With just one week of campaigning left, California's extraordinary gubernatorial recall election is increasingly being seen as a gladiatorial stand-off between Gray Davis, the governor fighting to keep his job, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is now clearly leading the race to replace him.

The two have spent the past few days issuing provocative statements about each other. Both agree that the other is the man to beat, if nothing else.Mr Schwarzenegger even described their duel as "hand-to-hand combat".

The actor, a Republican, is leading the pack of five candidates vying to replace the governor, thanks mainly to the collapsed fortunes of the Democrat, Cruz Bustamante.

Mr Schwarzenegger put up a lacklustre, over-scripted performance in the only debate he agreed to take part in last week, but Mr Bustamante performed even worse, and is clearly being punished for it, according to private tracking polls from all the campaigns.

ACNN-USA Today poll at the weekend suggested Mr Davis could be recalled by a 28 percentage point margin, but most analysts assume that he still has a fighting chance.

The same poll gave Mr Schwarzenegger 40 per cent of the vote on the replacement part of the ballot, with Mr Bustamante on 25 per cent and Tom McClintock on 18 per cent.

Mr Schwarzenegger is now barnstorming the state with his cliched but crowd-pleasing line about "terminating" Mr Davis.

Mr Davis, meanwhile, has challenged Mr Schwarzenegger to a one-on-one debate (he was turned down), and his aides are pummelling the actor as an amateur who has voted in only 13 of California's last 21 elections.