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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Will Movie Fans Carry Their Weight?

Young Latino men may be perfect 'Terminator' backers, but there is doubt they will vote.

August 26, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

East Los Angeles College student Sam Flores doesn't know it, but he's the perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger supporter.

At least in the eyes of some. Ever since the "Terminator" star entered the race for governor earlier this month, media outlets including Newsweek and CBS News have repeated the theory that the typical Schwarzenegger fan is a "19-year-old Hispanic male."

The man behind this notion is Bill Whalen, a much-quoted Hoover Institution fellow at Stanford University and a former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen said that 19-year-old Latino men represent the most loyal fans of Schwarzenegger's movies and could help him get elected governor -- if they vote.

They are "just sort of the heart and soul of his movies. He's one of life's winners," Whalen said. "The question is, can a celebrity also get his moviegoers to turn out and vote? It's that funny thing in life. People have no problem standing in line to buy a movie ticket, but they won't waste 15 minutes to go vote."

Talk to 19-year-old Latinos like Flores, and it becomes clear that seeing the latest Schwarzenegger blockbuster is far different from venturing into a polling place.

"His movies are cool, but I don't know about his political views," Flores said between classes at East L.A. College on a recent afternoon. "Everything you see on TV is Arnold, but he hasn't said where he stands on things."

Based on what he's gathered from Schwarzenegger's one campaign ad on television, Flores believes the actor "probably wants to change things."

"Do I believe him? Not really," Flores said. "It's like he looks too good.... Anyone can come up who has fame."

Over at Cal State Los Angeles, 19-year-old Robert Guzman, who grew up watching Schwarzenegger movies, is also skeptical about the actor's run for public office.

"I think he's a rich fool, and any rich fool can run for governor," Guzman said, lounging on a bench outside the campus bookstore wearing a black baseball cap, black T-shirt and reading glasses.

"Know what, though? I give him props for being a successful man, for having feria," or cash, he added. "He's successful, and now I guess he's going to be governor."

Not with Guzman's help, he hastened to add.

Like many Latino men in his age group interviewed on college campuses and at malls, Guzman said he doesn't plan to vote.

Guzman, who wants to become a lawyer, said he isn't interested in the recall election. Furthermore, "I still haven't taken politics" courses, he said.

Such attitudes aren't surprising, said Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

"If you're talking about the regular Latino that is 18 to 25, they don't vote," Camarillo said. In all honesty, she said, campaigns "are not going to target this group. They're going to target high-propensity voters."

Whalen said the concept of the 19-year-old Schwarzenegger fan originated with movie industry insiders who are close to the actor's campaign. Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said that reaching out to young voters will be a key strategy, but declined to elaborate beyond saying that registration drives are planned.

State agencies do not keep track of registered voters by age and race, officials said. An exit poll for the November 2002 election by a Los Angeles think tank found that Latinos ages 18 to 24 made up about 12% of total Latino turnout. The study, conducted by the William C. Velasquez Institute, found that Latinos made up about 14% of total voters.

"They may be big in potential ... [but] they're doing other things in life," said the institute's president, Antonio Gonzalez.

Indeed, Guzman, Flores and others said they don't feel connected to any of the 135 candidates in the running to replace Gov. Gray Davis. Most could not immediately name any of Schwarzenegger's opponents -- including Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

"What about that other guy ... Bustamante?" Guzman said when asked about the field.

Not all young Latinos are as disengaged -- especially those who know Schwarzenegger beyond the multiplex.

Chris Posada, a budding bodybuilder a few months shy of his 19th birthday, said he looks up to the actor as a weightlifting role model.

Posada met Schwarzenegger last year at the Hollenbeck Youth Center in Boyle Heights, where Posada works out. Schwarzenegger visits the center frequently because it is the home of the Inner City Games foundation that he chairs.

"He comes here all the time," Posada said, standing outside the center recently with his girlfriend. "Once I was lifting and he gave me a tip right there, with all the cameras."

When it comes to whether he thinks Schwarzenegger would make a good governor, Posada said, "It sounds like he knows what he wants.... He tries to create so many programs to keep us kids off the streets. That's what would make him a good governor."

"I'm registered to vote," he added. "I'm voting."

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