Even on stump, Schwarzenegger follows the script
FRESNO, CALIF. — Now that he has finally seen Arnold Schwarz-enegger in person, Nathan Brodrick feels hope for his beloved/beleaguered state of California, and the Republican candidate's chances at the same time.
"I don't really know how he is going to do it, or even if he knows how he's going to turn this state around," says the computer analyst, standing beneath an awning outside Jamba Juice at a mall where the actor has just appeared. "I just think things are such a mess that he's worth a try."
By contrast, secretary Nancy Lopez, holding a sign that says "NO Re-PETE for California" - with a picture of former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson - is in an angry tizzy. "I hope these people don't buy into this baloney ... He's just a rich celebrity and an actor and a bad one at that," she says. "This is a guy who wants to be governor just for personal ambition."
Nearly one month after Mr. Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy for California governor on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, a day on his campaign trail offers a window into the anybody's-guess world of California's confused and compacted governor recall election.
With just over four weeks still to go, Schwarzenegger's first road tour - more of a cameo, really - shows how quickly the self- proclaimed political "outsider" has in many ways taken on the trappings of an insider pol himself.
Exhibit A: After suggesting he would run a campaign financed with his own millions, he has hired fundraisers to solicit donors who have already contributed a reported $4 million.
Exhibit B: His first foray here outside Southern California - designed to attract crowds and press but not answer their questions.
"In record time, Arnold has become the insider politician he promised everyone he would not become," says Larry Berg, a former longtime political scientist at the University of Southern California. "Instead of running a people's campaign with fresh insight from outside the system, he has surrounded himself completely with very good, seasoned political consultants who have spent their lives in California politics and are advising him accordingly."
On a jalapeño-hot afternoon in late August, Schwarzenegger visits the agricultural hub of Fresno with three stops calculated to highlight his priorities of education, jobs, and wresting lawmakers in Sacramento from special interests.
With national, state, and local press in tow, he puts in an appearance at an elementary school, a factory plant, and a popular retail mall, tossing out just enough kernels of information to entice followers, but not enough substance to anger or galvanize opposition.
"This state has everything it needs to turn itself around," says the tanned and grinning Schwarzenegger, staring into a 5 p.m. sun and the eyes of 3,500 people at the mall, who have paused to hear his 15 minute talk. His visage then turns to a Terminator-like scowl. "What we don't have is leadership," he says.
The tour will rely on brief stump speeches that he has used before, talking up the importance of education spending and no new taxes. The outing is heavy on hyperbole and photo ops, and light on press contact.
At every stop, the public reaction is similar: "I just came out because I've seen him in the movies and I wanted to see what he was like in person," says farm worker Calvin Campos, standing outside Borders Books. "His ideas seem good, but he didn't say how he was going to achieve them."
At every stop the press reaction is also similar. "He still has not engaged in any serious discussions with any journalists who regularly cover politics in this state," says Michael Finnegan, political writer for the state's largest newspaper, The Los Angeles Times. "We're wondering when if ever he will ever be more specific. Time is running out."
After the one hour factory tour, for instance, in which Schwarzenegger embraced workers at the Lyons-Magnus fruit packing plant, the entourage of perhaps 50 to 60 reporters was kept waiting in a separate room with the enticement of a microphone set up for questions after the tour.
But after a brief announcement and two questions - one concerning an explicit 1977 magazine interview that delved into the actor's sexual exploits, and one excoriating him for as yet giving no serious interviews with political reporters - Schwarzen egger abruptly ends the "press availability," to the chagrin of most, and anger of some, scribes.
The actor-turned-politician is clearly more comfortable with the public than with the press, whether it be workers at the plant who carried posters of the weightlifter for him to autograph, or young kids reaching out for his hands after his 20-minute talk in their school cafeteria.
At Edison Bethune Elementary, a charter school in one of the poorest areas in Fresno, the mousse-coifed actor strolled to the mike amid shrieks of adulation from mostly minority kids. Most were anchored to the linoleum floor by oversized "Tweety" and "Piglet" backpacks.
Dutiful teachers had just gone to great lengths to quiet the jammed assembly by handing out cherry Tootsie Pops and singing ("ham bone, ham bone, where you been? Around the world and back again.")
Schwarzenegger deftly grabbed the mike and told stories of his rural youth in Austria in which teachers, parents, and mentors all supported him and gave him the feeling he could succeed, no matter what. That same support is what is lacking in California but no longer will be under his administration, the actor tells them.
He admonishes them to never take drugs, smoke, drink, join gangs, or avoid their homework. The list prepares the kids for his segue. "I know all about homework because I'm having to do a lot of that to run for governor of this state," he says.
"He's clearly got the kindergarten vote," says sixth-grade teacher Karyn Allen. "You can bet these kids will try to talk their parents into voting for Arnold."
Similar pandemonium erupts at the next stop, the Lyons- Magnus plant, where Schwarzenegger tours the factory floor, signing autographs and making female workers visibly swoon. One, Martha Casas, doesn't agree with his support of Prop. 187, which banned state support for illegal immigrants, but says she will vote for him anyway.
"We like him as a movie star," says the hard-hatted Casas, a lab worker. "He will be doing good in government."
At the final stop, Schwarzenegger continues to stick with the crowds and away from the press, taking no questions after his brief remarks highlighting his three themes. Then, it's into the crowds for hand touching and high-fiving. Loud speakers blare rock music with the lyrics, "we're not going to take it anymore."
Although Schwarzenegger himself dodges the press, key state Republicans go to bat with reporters on his behalf, in another frequent tactic of the political insider: Let surrogates do the spinning for you, especially when it comes to the press.
"This election is about getting the public to connect with politicians and he's trying to do that," says former GOP secretary of state Bill Jones, taking questions from reporters off to the side as the candidate gets in his chauffeured white SUV and exits through the crowds.
"The lack of that connection is what has gotten Gray Davis in trouble. [Davis] is going around the state trying to have town-hall meetings now, but it's a little late, Gray. The specifics will come and if they don't you guys should roast Arnold for it. But what is important now is that the people understand that this guy cares and wants to get it done."