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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Schwarzenegger Casts Himself as Conservative

August 26, 2003|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

Trailing in a recent poll and eager to consolidate Republican support, gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on two conservative talk radio shows Monday afternoon to bolster his standing on the right and attack the front-runner, Democrat Cruz Bustamante, as a stand-in for Gov. Gray Davis.

Schwarzenegger, who hasn't given many interviews, did one of his first live electronic interviews since appearances on morning network television news on Aug. 8. He repeated many of the same anti-tax themes that he employed last week during a meeting with his economic advisors.

He also struck the most partisan tone of his campaign so far, invoking former President Reagan and pledging to campaign for President George W. Bush's reelection.

And Schwarzenegger, who has pledged to run a positive campaign, took several swipes at Bustamante for trying to "punish the people" by raising taxes to cover the state government's budget deficit. The movie star also sought to link Davis to Bustamante, who held a double-digit lead over Schwarzenegger in a Los Angeles Times poll released over the weekend.

"When you think about Gray Davis, you have to think at the same time Bustamante, because it's one team," Schwarzenegger told former San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock on San Diego's KOGO-AM. "I think one newspaper pointed out that Bustamante is Gray Davis with a receding hairline and a mustache."

On the syndicated show of Hugh Hewitt, broadcast around the state, Schwarzenegger criticized Bustamante's plan to fill the state's budget gap largely with new taxes.

"Davis and Bustamante are into overspending, overtaxing and over-regulating," he said. "They go now and want to tax the people.... I think this just means that you want to punish the people for their mistakes. I think the people have been punished enough."

Schwarzenegger was not asked Monday about his more moderate positions on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control. That allowed him to continue a campaign strategy of denying room on the right to state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who has tried to cast himself as the race's only conservative with the departure of Bill Simon Jr. from the contest.

In recent days, Schwarzenegger's advisors have called him a conservative at every opportunity, and Schwarzenegger sought to demonstrate that Monday, repeatedly turning questions into denunciations of taxes and high government spending.

In both radio appearances, Schwarzenegger portrayed himself as a Reagan disciple. "We have the same philosophy and approach to things," he said at one point. In another line, he said his agenda of keeping taxes low and improving education "is exactly what Ronald Reagan stood for."

He even incorporated Reagan into an oft-repeated anecdote about being an immigrant who is grateful to America and California for the opportunities they gave him.

"Remember what Ronald Reagan said, 'America is the shining city on the hill,' " said Schwarzenegger. "I have experienced that thing firsthand."

Schwarzenegger also endorsed Bush ("I'm all the way with him and I will always be supportive of him"), which moved Hewitt, the conservative host, to remark, "I think that's huge for my audience."

U.S. Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), a Schwarzenegger advisor who appeared on the Hewitt show after the candidate, made the Schwarzenegger strategy explicit: "The interview that Arnold just had could have been delivered by Tom McClintock."

Schwarzenegger has discussed few specific policies in his campaign. But he made his most detailed remarks on workers' compensation Monday, using numbers to emphasize the burdens on individual businesses. He said some businesses are paying $10,000 in workers' compensation insurance for every $100,000 they spend in salaries.

To reduce the burden, he said he would lower medical costs currently covered by workers' compensation insurance. He suggested that his plan for reducing costs would be similar to a law in Arizona, but he did not elaborate.

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