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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Mobilizing the Machine

Schwarzenegger is harnessing his talent agents and Hollywood contacts to raise funds and rally the electorate

August 20, 2003|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

When Creative Artists Agency snagged Arnold Schwarzenegger as a client last August, his representatives thought they were supposed to find the star new roles to reignite his movie career.

But he's turning the tables: Candidate Schwarzenegger wants to cast his agents against type as aides in his run for the California governor's seat.

The 56-year-old actor has asked CAA to join his political effort, largely by tapping the Beverly Hills-based agency's entertainment relationships to help raise campaign funds and rally voters, Schwarzenegger's campaign confirmed. The request is part of a broader move to line up Schwarzenegger's Hollywood support team of publicists and entertainment business associates -- many of them Democrats -- behind his Republican bid to replace Gov. Gray Davis.

Political observers are questioning whether the unusual mobilization risks a backlash from an electorate still coming to terms with the notion of a superstar candidacy.

"I think it puts his campaign at risk," said Ken Khachigian, a 35-year political strategist who was an aide to both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. "He already had the Hollywood cachet all by himself. What you really need to add is political weightiness."

Schwarzenegger's campaign strategists say they are simply capitalizing on offers of help from friends and associates of the actor and his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver.

"Because of Arnold and Maria's circle of friends in the entertainment community, the phones have been ringing off the hook," said Bonnie Reiss, who is helping to organize the Schwarzenegger campaign's Hollywood effort. "We're following up with all of them to help invigorate the electorate."

Contemporary stars are typically surrounded by a sophisticated business apparatus that handles legal disputes, negotiates contracts, manages media contacts and keeps the intrusive public at bay. Schwarzenegger's support structure includes not just CAA -- among Hollywood's most powerful agencies -- but also litigator Martin Singer, entertainment lawyer Jake Bloom and publicist Jill Eisenstadt, who is a partner in the public relations and marketing firm Full Picture.

That team could prove to be a significant advantage, particularly in a short campaign that leaves little time to build a machine. Eisenstadt, the media specialist, has been sitting in on political strategy meetings. CAA, for its part, has instant access to star clients such as Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and others, and also represents corporate giants, including Coca-Cola Co., EBay Inc. and Nextel Communications Inc.

But Schwarzenegger's move to put the agency in the service of his political campaign apparently runs counter to its economic interest: If he wins, the agency, while retaining his goodwill, loses its expected 10% commission for the next three years on the star's film income, which has ranged as high as $30 million a year recently.

"His agents are losing the opportunity costs of making 'Terminator 4,' " suggested Martin Kaplan, an associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and former production executive at Disney Studios.

A potentially more dangerous downside, suggested Kaplan, a longtime Democrat who served as deputy campaign manager and chief speechwriter for Walter Mondale, was the risk that some clients would be offended by a request to put aside their party loyalties to support Schwarzenegger.

"It's a very slippery game and full of inherent conflicts," Kaplan said. "There are more than a few people in this community who will be offended to be asked to support a Republican."

Schwarzenegger's lead agents -- Bryan Lourd, David Styne and CAA President Richard Lovett -- all declined to be interviewed, referring repeated calls to Schwarzenegger's political strategists.

According to campaign insiders, the Hollywood handlers are expected to stitch together a coalition of artists and entertainers, which will include actor Rob Lowe as one of its chairs. In addition to fund-raising, some of the celebrities will be asked to visit college campuses and make appearances at community and youth centers in a get-out-the-vote effort.

Movie director Ivan Reitman -- who cast Schwarzenegger in the comedies "Twins," "Kindergarten Cop" and "Junior" -- said he, Lowe, producing partner Tom Pollock, Jordan Winery's Sally Jordan and other Santa Barbara neighbors plan to host a fund-raiser for the candidate next month.

Last fall, Reitman, whose Canadian citizenship precludes him from voting, raised funds for the successful, Schwarzenegger-backed after-school initiative, Proposition 49.

Veteran director-producer Bud Yorkin, a liberal Democrat, said he wouldn't hesitate to vote for Schwarzenegger, even though he hasn't always seen eye to eye with the star, his longtime friend.

"The irony is, he's an actor who sounds more real than any politician I know," Yorkin said. "Arnold is more likely to get consensus because he's socially liberal and fiscally conservative."

Even so, Schwarzenegger's agents appear to be hedging their bets.

CAA, while joining the actor's campaign, is quietly keeping on simmer the various movie deals he had in the works when he unexpectedly announced his decision to run for governor Aug. 6, people familiar with the situation said.

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