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The State | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

McClintock Taps Into Media's Focus on Schwarzenegger

The state senator is packaging himself as the actor's conservative counterpoint.

August 15, 2003|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

Underfunded and overshadowed, conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock has kicked off his gubernatorial campaign with a strategy that tries to turn the huge media focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger to his own advantage -- appearing on radio and television as the actor's conservative counterpoint.

The good news for the veteran anti-tax crusader from Thousand Oaks is that broadcasters have been eager to give him a platform.

In the first five days after Saturday's candidate-filing deadline, McClintock has appeared about two dozen times on the electronic media, including half a dozen spots on some of the nation's most visible news-talk programs.

Witty if a bit stiff, he uses each appearance to precisely repeat his campaign themes, usually with the same words: By cutting California's bloated bureaucracy, the state could quickly rebound from this year's $38-billion budget shortfall.

The bad news, however, is that while talk show hosts welcome McClintock as a conservative spokesman, few seem to accept his belief that he can actually win. And some past donors don't seem ready to bankroll a campaign that many Republicans believe could simply end up playing the role of spoiler.

Yet, at least so far, McClintock has had considerable success in taking advantage of the surge of media attention directed at California's unprecedented recall election.

"I'm not exhausted; I'm feeling exhilarated," he said. "Every other campaign I've felt like I was putting energy into it. This one feels like I'm getting energy out of it."

On Monday he appeared with Lou Dobbs on CNN, with radio shock jock Michael Savage and taped a segment for ABC News; on Tuesday, he talked politics on MSNBC with Pat Buchanan and Bill Press, squeezed in interviews with KABC's Larry Elder and KFI's John and Ken, then closed the day chatting with national Fox News anchorwoman Greta Van Susteren.

On Wednesday, he did four radio news interviews during morning drive time, talked for an hour with syndicated radio host Michael Medved in the afternoon, then did three more radio interviews before dark.

His Thursday began with a 5:20 a.m. appearance on the nationwide Fox & Friends TV show, the first of eight radio or TV appearances that day.

McClintock said he can see the monetary benefits of his media blitz. "We've gotten roughly $200,000 this week," he said Thursday afternoon. "We received $15,000 in small contributions over the Internet last night."

McClintock, outspent 5 to 1 in his narrow loss for state controller last year, has received $1.15 million in contributions and pledges this time, including more than $400,000 already in hand, his staff members said.

Some political analysts believe that McClintock, like Schwarzenegger, is benefiting from not only a unique political situation but a more general emerging populism of voters disenchanted with politics as usual. Voter interest has been stoked, experts say, by Internet campaigns and the focused messages of talk radio.

"This week has been an anomaly because the rest of the world is so entranced with California. But McClintock's people have been masterful in getting him on the air," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento.

"But I honestly think this is part of the Howard Dean phenomenon," she said. "Dean on the left and Arnold in the middle are tapping into an unmet need. McClintock fills that need on the conservative side. He's been ideologically consistent for a lot of years."

Eric Hogue, a conservative radio talk-show host in Sacramento who chatted with McClintock on Wednesday, said he considers the candidate's constant availability this week "a great strategy, especially when you consider Arnold is saying nothing."

"We're talking all about news cycles," Hogue said. "What's sexy today, won't be sexy next week. But right now, every moment is huge. The nation's spotlight is on this."

Whether today's sizzle can give McClintock enough momentum to make a race against two better known Republican multimillionaires -- Schwarzenegger and Bill Simon Jr. -- is another question. Throughout the week, interviewers and some talk-show callers have been skeptical about his chances.

In one interview, for instance, his questioner, Steve Edwards of KTTV in Los Angeles, wondered whether McClintock had chosen the best race to make his run for governor considering his lack of "star power." Asked Edwards: Would McClintock vote for Schwarzenegger if he were not running himself?

"The few positions he has taken seem to be identical to those of Gray Davis," McClintock responded. "I'd like to see where Arnold Schwarzenegger stands on major issues."

Medved pressed McClintock with a similar question a day later, after declaring flatly that the senator could not match the gubernatorial front-runners in spending and exposure. He wanted to know whether McClintock would endorse Schwarzenegger if the actor adopted his plan for balancing the budget.

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