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Arianna Huffington

Campaign trail leads from star-studded Bel-Air home to earthier Northridge campus

September 11, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

After collecting thousands of dollars at a Bel-Air fund-raiser the night before, Arianna Huffington was back on the college circuit Wednesday with her familiar critique of corporate greed and political spinelessness.

Appearing in a crowded auditorium at Cal State Northridge, she announced that she would launch a statewide petition drive next week to enact public financing of political campaigns. More than 500 students turned out to see Huffington, a nonpartisan candidate vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the recall race.

"She understands what we feel," said Cesar Tejada, 24, a senior who is studying electrical engineering. "I'm tired of the Democrats and I'm tired of the Republicans. She's basically a third choice. She's given us hope for a change."

Huffington pledged that, if elected governor, she would roll back the recent 30% increase in state university fees -- prompting loud cheering from the students -- and she vowed never to be swayed by special interests.

The state "gave raises to prison guards, just because they gave over $3 million to Gray Davis and you didn't," Huffington told the crowd. "Why didn't you? You would've gotten tuition decreases if you had given $3 million to Gray Davis! That's how the game is played. We need to change that."

Huffington has garnered more than 2,200 individual campaign contributions, in what her campaign portayed as a measure of her populist appeal. Because most donations were small, she nonetheless lags far behind the leading contenders in the money race. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, has raised nearly $7 million for his campaign, while Huffington has taken in less than $600,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

She threw one of her few large fund-raisers Tuesday, a comedy night at the stately brick home of Lawrence Bender, the film producer behind "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting."

About 250 people attended, including actors, comedians and other entertainment types.

Dustin Hoffman was there, ambling down a stone path. So was Anjelica Huston, chatting with her husband, sculptor Robert Graham, and actor Ed Begley Jr. in the doorway.

Huffington, a well-known political pundit who often rubs shoulders with Hollywood's elite, draped her arm around Nia Vardalos, the star of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

"This is Greek woman power!" Huffington told a row of television cameramen.

The crowd was decidedly scruffier the next day in Northridge, where the campus chic leaned more toward flip-flops and tank tops than the black blazers and silk scarves of the night before.

Huffington decided to tour colleges throughout the state this week as part of her appeal to the 13 million "disillusioned" Californians who were eligible to vote in the last election but didn't. After the event, only 29 people had registered to vote at a table set up outside.

Huffington, the only prominent woman in the recall race, told the students to disregard polls showing her in the low single digits.

The likely voters targeted by pollsters, she said, are "a small, unrepresentative minority of bored Americans who have nothing better to do at dinner than talk to strangers for no money."

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