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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Calls for Substance, Not Scripts

August 11, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

Over the first five days of his campaign, as he glided from one media-festooned event to the next, Hollywood actor and gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised to create jobs, clean up Sacramento and make children his top priority as governor.

But he has said close to nothing about how he would do those things, ducked questions on other topics and declined all interview requests from California's political press, even as the Oct. 7 recall election looms.

Though the strategy gives Schwarzenegger time to craft and calibrate his responses -- and extends his political honeymoon -- it has opened him to bipartisan criticism. Two of Schwarzenegger's Republican rivals in the gubernatorial recall race took the actor to task Sunday for what they called a lack of substance in his campaign.

The jabs by GOP candidates Bill Simon Jr. and Tom McClintock came after several days of attacks on the Republican actor by Democrats who have questioned his qualifications to succeed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, if he is recalled.

"We don't know where he stands on the issues," Simon said on "Fox News Sunday." He added: "This is not a time for sound bites, Hollywood scripts."

On ABC's "This Week," McClintock, a state senator from Thousand Oaks, said Schwarzenegger "hasn't taken a position on any issues yet."

"There's a great deal that I'm sure Arnold Schwarzenegger could teach me about making movies," McClintock said. "There's a great deal I could teach him about the fiscal reforms necessary to set this state right, but there's no time for training."

It is not as though the media-savvy star has gone into hiding: Last week, he invited Time and Newsweek to photograph him with campaign staff at his office for cover stories. But he refused to talk to their reporters, spokesmen for the magazines said. On Sunday, he made no public appearances, and today he plans to be in New York for an after-school program ceremony.

As a leading contender in the special election, Schwarzenegger has much to gain by postponing serious scrutiny of his views, said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a nonpartisan political newsletter in Washington, D.C.

"The minute he starts to get specific, the support starts to peel off," he said. "If he gets into details, he risks losing his greatest asset, which is the breadth of his appeal."

That risk was apparent Sunday when former Gov. Pete Wilson, a co-chairman of the actor's campaign, acknowledged that Schwarzenegger backed Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure that sought to curb public services for illegal immigrants.

Though a majority of voters in the state backed the initiative, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger's support for it threatens to alienate Latino voters, whom he has been trying to attract with repeated references to his own immigrant beginnings in California.

State Democratic Chairman Art Torres immediately seized on Wilson's remarks. He released a statement calling the ballot measure "a very divisive wedge issue full of hate against the Latino community." He also noted that the political consultants who ran the Proposition 187 campaign now work for Schwarzenegger.

"The California Democratic Party will make this an issue with our Democratic base, especially in the Latino community," Torres said in a prepared statement.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh brushed aside the criticism as "a simple and sad attempt to deflect attention away from Gray Davis' failures."

"Art Torres cannot defend Gray Davis' record, so he attacks others," Walsh said. "This strategy will fail and will continue to reinforce the negative view of Davis as this recall election moves forward."

Walsh also dismissed the accusations that Schwarzenegger had failed to take stands on public issues, saying his critics were envious of his popularity.

"Arnold's on top, and they're desperately trying to claw their way up the pole," Walsh said. "Arnold Schwarzenegger will have proposals that cover the issues that Californians are most concerned about: their jobs, their children's education and their quality of life. By election day, there will be a clear distinction between Arnold Schwarzenegger's vision and plan to bring California back and those of his opponents."

But such assertions have done nothing to stem the criticism, particularly since the other candidates -- all of them far less known than Schwarzenegger -- have only 57 days left before election day to make their case. Simon and McClintock have, as well, roots in the conservative Republican ranks, where Schwarzenegger's more moderate positions on social issues have rung alarms.

Over two decades in the Legislature, McClintock has built an unwavering conservative record: He is a hawk on fiscal issues who opposes legal abortion and gun control.

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