YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Making Some Noise in Riverside

GOP front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger rallies support in the Inland Empire, a region whose conservative voters could be key.

September 05, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger attracted hundreds of supporters, a few naysayers and dozens of screaming autograph seekers at a lunchtime rally Thursday in downtown Riverside, a visit that underscored the important role the Inland Empire could play in the recall election.

The boisterous event in the City Hall plaza, which attracted an estimated 1,500 people, was the Republican front-runner's first campaign appearance in the Inland Empire. The event, billed as a voter registration drive, had the jubilant atmosphere of a rock concert.

But the appearance had strategic importance for Schwarzenegger, who met with a small group of potential campaign contributors at the Mission Inn before the rally. Afterward, he held a press conference where he explained his positions on campaign finance, school vouchers, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and workers' compensation reforms.

Although it was Schwarzenegger's first campaign visit to the region, his supporters expect to see him again before the Oct. 7 special election.

"Clearly Schwarzenegger recognizes the importance of the Inland Empire," said Rod Pacheco, a former assemblyman from Riverside and a Schwarzenegger supporter.

Academics and campaign strategists said voters in the Inland Empire could be pivotal. The region, home to nearly 1.3 million voters, is a Republican stronghold where the pro-recall forces are expected to gain strong support. Riverside and San Bernardino counties, combined, offered up more than 165,000 of the 1.4 million valid signatures on the recall petition.

In the 2002 race, Gov. Gray Davis lost to Republican challenger Bill Simon by double digits in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In fact, every statewide Republican candidate handily outdrew Democrats in the Inland Empire last year.

But Schwarzenegger is not the only candidate to recognize the region's emerging clout.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and First Lady Sharon Davis appeared separately at a Labor Day rally in San Bernardino. Republican candidate Tom McClintock, a state senator, is scheduled to make a campaign appearance today in Temecula.

The Inland Empire could also be crucial to campaign war chests because it is home to some of the state's wealthiest Indian tribes. Bustamante's campaign has already been bolstered by a $2-million donation from the Viejas band of Kumeyaay Indians, which operate a casino near Interstate 8 east of San Diego.

A Conservative Split?

Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at UC Riverside, said Inland Empire voters will probably offer strong support for the recall, but he predicted that the region's conservative voters will probably split among McClintock, Schwarzenegger and Republican businessman Peter Ueberroth.

"We are kind of hard-core Republicans," Bowler said. "We are important to the recall and growing more important."

The Inland Empire is also the fastest-growing region in the state, making it a crucial battleground for candidates who hope to establish some name recognition for future statewide campaigns.

Thursday's Schwarzenegger rally attracted throngs of government workers who were heading out of their offices for lunch.

Schwarzenegger approached the microphone to the chants of "Arnold, Arnold, Arnold," and many in the crowd came with cameras and approached the stage to get a good shot.

Three teenagers from Lake Elsinore High School who attended the rally along with their government class nervously smiled for the news cameras as they flashed their tribute to Schwarzenegger: Each had printed "ARNOLD" on their biceps with red ink.

'Judgment Day'

Brittany Greene, 17, said she attended the rally because she supports Schwarzenegger. Her friends, Samantha Anderson, 16, and Amie Thompson, 17, said they came along just to get a glimpse of one of Hollywood's highest-paid action stars.

Tom Barrett, a Riverside resident and chairman of the state's Lincoln clubs, attended the rally wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed Oct. 7 "Judgment Day" and depicted Schwarzenegger as "The Terminator."

"He has charisma," Barrett said. "I think that is where his following comes from."

But the rally also drew opponents, such as Maria Anna Gonzales, a Riverside resident and mother of five, who held a hand-made sign that said, "Hasta La Vista," followed by a Spanish slur for coward.

Several Schwarzenegger supporters confronted Gonzales, including an elderly man who accused her of using profanity.

An visibly angry Gonzales lashed back at the man, calling him an idiot.

At that point a woman who was walking past tried to quell the feud by telling Gonzales: "That is what is great about America: You have the right to be an idiot and I have the right to be an idiot."

Los Angeles Times Articles