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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Candidates Pursue Schwarzenegger

At least a dozen gubernatorial hopefuls relish the trip on the 'Ex-Terminator' bus in the wake of the front-runner.

October 04, 2003|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

ABOARD THE EX-TERMINATOR — Gliding up Interstate 5 with the top down in his white Rolls-Royce convertible, Gene Forte will tell you he wants to be governor to stop all the corrupt judges and attorneys.

Bill Vaughn -- in a voice as tender as that of TV's Mr. Rogers -- says he just wants to win more respect for structural engineers.

Badi Badiozamani -- the natty businessman, gubernatorial candidate and eloquent spokesman for his native Iran -- looks in the rear-view mirror of his gold Mercedes at the gleaming row of buses lined up behind him on the freeway. "Hey," he declares in triumph, "we're ahead of them!"

Just days from the first statewide recall election, at least a dozen would-be governors are chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger. Chasing his caravan of buses up the spine of California. Chasing the reporters and camera crews who fill them. Chasing the fleeting exhilaration of living life outside their normal boundaries.

Their four-day odyssey will not end until Sunday in Sacramento, but by late Friday, the candidates had already challenged a policeman blocking their path in Costa Mesa, chanted for access to a Schwarzenegger rally in San Bernardino and faced off with a hotel night clerk who proved every bit as obstinate as any state bureaucracy.

They seemed to relish it all and to thrive -- pilot fish on the flanks of the Schwarzenegger leviathan.

"This has been a tremendous awakening for me," Cheryl Bly-Chester, an environmental engineer and single mother from Roseville, said earnestly as the sun set Thursday over the freeway. "I feel lighter. I feel better. I mean, I am impressed by how much better I am doing. And I am my own worst critic."

Bly-Chester -- 46, blond and slightly sunburned -- helped organize as many as 60 of the 135 candidates for governor to meet through much of the campaign in an informal group that came to call itself "the coalition" or "the forum." Although they agreed on almost nothing else, they did have a common interest in making sure they would be heard.

So they decided that Schwarzenegger would not make his trek to Sacramento alone. James M. Vandeventer Jr. of Los Angeles, a one-time car salesman, hired a bus. Darrin Scheidle of San Diego brought doughnuts and water. Jim Weir, a community college teacher from Grass Valley, flew reconnaissance overhead in his Cessna 182. And Bly-Chester chipped in with cold cuts and candy.

When they set off Thursday morning from downtown San Diego, the compatriots were already ahead of the game. Five of the reporters on board were from the state's biggest newspapers, joined by a New York Times correspondent, a reporter from public radio and two documentary film crews.

The group was positively cozy compared with the 220 journalists from 12 nations -- toting cameras and thousands of pounds of gear -- who thronged a few blocks away outside San Diego's Convention Center, waiting to board four Schwarzenegger media buses.

On the Schwarzenegger buses, the air turned stale, and, as the minutes to deadline grew shorter, the reporters became decidedly cranky.

But on the newly christened "Ex-Terminator" bus, a breezy informality quickly developed. With most of the seats open, reporters and photographers slid easily down the aisle for interviews, and the candidates traded plans on how best to capture the energy of the Schwarzenegger supernova.

Badiozamani's cell phone vibrated every few minutes with a new call. "This is like National Public Radio, but in Canada," he announced after returning the phone to his hip. Later, he proclaimed: "Persian radio, in Montreal. They want to talk to me tomorrow."

"Arnold is twice as tall. He has twice as much muscle," Badiozamani said. "But I will debate him anytime, anywhere, with half my brain tied behind my back."

Pausing for effect, he grinned: "I told this to Judy Woodruff -- on CNN."

As they approached the Orange County Fairgrounds Thursday, a Costa Mesa policeman conferred with a member of Schwarzenegger's support team and then signaled to the coalition candidates that their bus had to stay put.

That caused an excited uproar inside the Ex-Terminator, whose occupants railed against shutting down public streets and compromising the rights of certified candidates.

When the officer finally relented, the stocky, tanned George Schwartzman, 57, exhorted his comrades: "Don't be embarrassed, everybody. Just go right up to people and let 'em know we are candidates!"

Beside the throng cheering Schwarzenegger, even the 6-foot-6 Vaughn -- "I don't feel real comfortable asking people to vote for me" -- approached a few voters with campaign pins pulled from his leather carpenter's belt. The gangly 56-year-old engineer returned to the bus smiling: "It seems to be working."

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