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The prince, the showgirl, and his bizarre battle for power

"I'm not going to lie," says Prince Frederic von Anhalt . "I have indeed slept with prostitutes. If someone asks about it in debates, I will confess. People will respect it. Like 80pc of married men, I enjoy the company of hookers. I'd be an idiot if I said I didn't."

Prince von Anhalt is explaining how he will field some of the tough questions that will soon come his way during the long, hard battle that he hopes will end with him becoming the next governor of California.

His remark about prostitutes is unusually frank for a politician trying to court US public opinion. But it is nonetheless endearingly true to the libertarian platform on which this Hollywood socialite, husband of former screen siren Zsa Zsa Gabor, is contesting November's wide-open election to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I say that we should legalise prostitution, and plenty of other sins, and then we should of course tax them," he adds, outlining his most noteworthy proposal for addressing the fiscal crisis that has brought the State of California to the brink of bank- ruptcy.

Legalised prostitution isn't the German-born prince's only big idea, though. If elected, he has also pledged to legalise and tax the sale of marijuana and Cuban cigars.

You may think such free-thinking would put a candidate firmly in the minority camp. But in a state that has grown weary of the status quo, Prince Frederic's independent campaign, which launched a fortnight ago, is instead managing to capture the public's imagination.

A vast red billboard bearing a beaming picture of him in military regalia dominates Sunset Boulevard and he is followed by paparazzi.

"I've been in this country 26 years, and I've learned one thing: you have to be famous to win elections. If you're not famous, but you're filthy rich, forget about it. And fame is one thing I already have," he proclaims.

Frederic's election slogan is, "Return the Good Life to California." If elected, he would reduce car tax ("it's outrageous"), tax oil companies "big time," legalise gay marriage ("let them be as miserable as the rest of us") and make solar panels mandatory on all new buildings, to "rid our dependency on Middle East oil".

Next week he'll travel to the town of Sacramento, to formally file papers to contest the election to a post once occupied by his old friend Ronald Reagan.

An eccentric character in a red campaign baseball cap, wearing, a vast Rolex, and several weighty gold rings, Prince Frederic's topsy-turvy life story was perhaps always destined to end-up in Los Angeles -- where he and Zsa Zsa have a home that was once owned by Elvis Presley.

He was born the son of a policeman in Germany, but joined the nobility in 1980, at the age of 37, when Princess Marie-Auguste von Anhalt, the ex-wife of Prince Joachim of Prussia, the Kaiser's son, adopted him, following the death of her own son.

In 1984, on holiday in Los Angeles, he met Hungarian-born Gabor. Sparks flew. Two years later, he became her ninth husband (he also had a track record: she was his seventh wife). They have lived together, as members of Hollywood's affluent old guard, ever since, despite his infidelity, which he claims included a decade-long affair with the wealthy former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, who died in 2007.

Whether voters will share Prince Frederic's cavalier attitude, remains to be seen. One factor that may boost his chances is the painfully dull nature of his rivals from both major parties. The Republican frontrunner, former eBay chief Meg Whitman, is so desperate for recognition that she has already spent $20m on building her profile. Jerry Brown, her likely Democratic rival, is a monochrome career politician.

And what does Zsa Zsa herself think of becoming first lady? Now aged 92 confined to a wheelchair, she rarely leaves home.

" I keep telling her, 'You'd better get prepared, you're going to be the first lady.' And she smiles, and says, 'I've waited 92 years for that. Make sure you get it'!"