The Washington Post
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Arnold Schwarzenegger worked to reestablish himself today as the outsider who will shake up a deadlocked culture in Sacramento — even as he sought the embrace of California’s business elites, big-money donors and the leading Republican politicians whose very behavior he has criticized.
The actor skipped the first debate in the recall election today and appeared instead on the quad of the state university here as the self-described anti-politician who will “take back the government again.”
As his five leading opponents spent the day cramming for their appearance tonight at the debate in Walnut Creek — Gov. Gray Davis (D) appeared there separately before them — the Republican actor portrayed himself as too rich to cater to special interests and too happily married to a Democrat to engage in partisan bickering.
As Schwarzenegger strode up to the stage, someone threw an egg at the actor, who simply took off his yolky blazer. Another group of students chanted that Schwarzenegger is no friend to immigrants, carrying signs that said, “Hasta la vista Latinos.”
But when Schwarzenegger told the crowd, “I’m going to go to Sacramento and reform politics as we know it” and “if the special interests push me around, I’ll push back,” he was met by enthusiastic applause from the collegians, many dressed in aprs-beach attire.
In the dog days of August, Schwarzenegger’s international celebrity gave him an advantage that no other candidate in the race could match — his bid created a huge buzz and turned the voters on to the recall race. But the fact that he has largely avoided specifics and rarely aired his political views — let alone that he has not run for office before — presents a challenge that he and his advisers may have underestimated.
In recent days, Schwarzenegger has been hit with charges that he is a scripted novice candidate who ducks interviews; that he reversed himself and began raking in contributions; and that he has been scant on details about how he would fix California’s economic woes.
Some supporters worry that the actor’s efforts to mollify concerns that he is not sufficiently conservative for the GOP’s right wing have cost him some of his appeal as an outsider. They fear that if the race becomes a traditional, partisan battle, Schwarzenegger will have a more difficult time winning than if he is seen as the candidate of change.
Schwarzenegger has put the stamp of others on his political persona, most notably that of former governor Pete Wilson (R), who serves as co-chairman of his campaign and whose ideas, as well as former advisers and staff, dominate the actor’s team. Schwarzenegger has hired Don Sipple, who is Wilson’s former spokesman, chief of staff, legislative liaison and ad man. Sipple produced
the controversial “They Just Keep Coming” TV spot for Wilson’s Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that sought to deny government services to illegal immigrants.
“He went overboard stressing the populist outsider image and then surrounds himself with the consummate Sacramento insiders. I mean, if these guys aren’t insiders, nobody is,” said Arnold Steinberg, a Republican consultant in California who is not involved in the recall election.
“If you have all these endorsements of the Wilson administration and all this business money, how can you be the outsider?” asked another GOP strategist, who asked not to be named. “He is not thinking this through.”
Schwarzenegger’s pursuit of contributions from businesses and business executives — and there are dozens of high-dollar fundraisers scheduled over the next 35 days — represents a contradiction of his pledge to self-finance his campaign and not to be beholden to special interests. The more he has tried to explain away the contradiction, the less effective he has been.
In recent interviews, Schwarzenegger has said he meant he would not take money from Indian tribes with gambling interests or from public employees unions that negotiate their contracts with the state. But even many Republicans say they find that explanation a reach.
“The definition of ‘special interest’ is not defined the way he’s defining it,” another Republican consultant said. “If you ask the average person on the street what does ‘special interest’ mean, they’ll tell you business, corporations.”
“It’s really a shame. He’s squandered an opportunity. He pledged to be the people’s governor, and at the end of the day, he’s taking everybody’s money,” said Douglas Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Los Angeles. “It strikes us that this election now looks like the same old politicians with the same old advisers playing the same old game.”
Schwarzenegger’s campaign counters that the candidate never promised not to take a nickel from supporters. Moreover, they say that voters don’t really care who staffs his election team — what they care about is what Schwarzenegger says and does.
When Schwarzenegger launched his campaign last month, it was with the clear intent of becoming the outsider candidate, but he quickly was practicing more traditional Republican politics. Today’s speech, and a new 15-second television ad that began airing today, marked his attempt to reframe the race on the theme of bringing change to Sacramento.
His advisers see an opening to cast Schwarzenegger as the outsider by focusing on the efforts of other candidates to win financial support from Indian tribes who operate lucrative casinos in the state. Last week, Davis, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) and conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) all appeared before the tribes; Schwarzenegger has pointed to that as an example of the culture of “money goes in, favors go out” that he will try to change.
The film star has offered mixed signals on other issues. His support from Wilson and the revelation that he had supported Proposition 187 raised questions about whether he can appeal to Latino voters here. “I will let them know I love them. I’m an immigrant myself,” he has said.
At today’s rally at Cal State-Long Beach, Schwarzenegger began his 15-minute speech with a rhetorical question: “You have such a fantastic life, Arnold: You make millions of dollars to do movies and all those kinds of things. Why do you want to do this?” he said. “And you know something, because everything that I’ve gotten — my career, my money, my family — everything that I’ve gotten and achieved is because of California.”