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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Schwarzenegger Takes His Campaign to the State Fair

While saying little about issues, he accuses Gov. Davis of being 'in the pockets' of special interests. He agrees to one debate, on Sept. 17.

September 02, 2003|Dan Morain and Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, braving autograph-seekers, 100-degree heat and vendors selling fried Twinkies, took his campaign to replace Gov. Gray Davis to the California State Fair on Monday and blamed the Democratic incumbent for the state's troubled economy.

Answering a few questions from reporters but offering little detail on campaign issues, Schwarzenegger lamented that nearly 22,000 Californians were laid off in July. He cited high taxes, over-regulation and the costly workers' compensation system for the state's economic woes, and accused Davis of being "in the pockets" of special interests.

"These people didn't just lose their jobs," Schwarzenegger said, as bungee jumpers swung high above him and fairgoers rode on elephants in a corral nearby. "These people witnessed firsthand the American dream slipping away from them."

The other leading Republican candidates, state Sen. Tom McClintock and Peter V. Ueberroth, had no public events Monday but spoke briefly with reporters -- about Schwarzenegger.

Ueberroth, the former Los Angeles Olympics organizer and Major League Baseball commissioner, urged Schwarzenegger to change his mind and join other prominent candidates Wednesday at the first debate of the campaign, the "Race to the Recall" forum in Walnut Creek.

Schwarzenegger said for the first time Monday that he would participate in one debate, to be hosted Sept. 17 by the California Broadcasters Assn., but would skip the others. He has rejected 15 other debate requests.

"It is important for me to be part of that debate," the actor and former bodybuilder said of the broadcasters' mid-September event. "The rest of the time, I will be traveling up and down the state campaigning; getting the message out there; knocking on doors; going to TV stations, radio stations; talking to the journalists. By the time we are through with this campaign, you guys will be sick of me. Trust me."

Ueberroth said that participating in the debates "shows respect for the voters," and that a Schwarzenegger appearance Wednesday would elevate the exposure of the event and the other participating candidates: Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Green Party member Peter Camejo, independent Arianna Huffington, McClintock and Ueberroth.

"The ratings will double or triple if Arnold is there," Ueberroth said. "He would be doing a great service for the recall campaign, and for himself."

Without Schwarzenegger's presence, Ueberroth said, early absentee voters could end up voting before they've watched him outline his vision for governing California.

Ueberroth spoke to reporters from his campaign headquarters in an industrial complex at the edge of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, space rented from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who underwrote the petition drive that forced the recall vote. Issa, an early candidate to replace Davis, dropped out after Schwarzenegger decided to run.

Ueberroth dismissed a question about Schwarzenegger's 1977 Oui magazine interview, in which the then-emerging celebrity bragged about his sexual exploits.

"I don't think it's relevant to this campaign," said Ueberroth, who has pledged to avoid making any negative comments about anyone involved in the recall election.

Ueberroth is expected to begin airing television ads this week, and is planning back-to-back town hall sessions next weekend in Ontario and in Glendale.

The most important thing is to "educate the voters that this is a very serious thing that they're about to consider," he said. "I'm going to become more of a one-note Charley [on reviving the state's economy] and who can do that best."

McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), meanwhile, was struggling to get a word in Monday on MSNBC's "Hardball." McClintock is running ahead of Ueberroth in polls but behind Schwarzenegger. In response to questions from host Chris Matthews, McClintock said he didn't believe he was a spoiler who would drain votes from Schwarzenegger.

McClintock said he doubted his supporters agreed with Schwarzenegger's financial policies. He also said he didn't believe that they would swing over to Schwarzenegger if McClintock were to drop out of the recall race.

At the state fair, hundreds of admirers shouted for Schwarzenegger's attention, tried to shake his hand and thrust pens and pieces of paper at him. It was his first trip to the fair, a two-week event that draws as many as 100,000 people a day.

Schwarzenegger sounded themes similar to those that former Gov. Pete Wilson, now Schwarzenegger's campaign chairman, talked about when he was in office during the recession a decade ago.

At that time, Wilson appointed Ueberroth to study the causes of the recession. Now that the economy once again has slowed, many of the Ueberroth commission ideas are being recycled by Schwarzenegger: Cut taxes, reduce government regulation and overhaul the workers' compensation system.

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