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Schwarzenegger fans act out

Action-movie buffs don't want him to quit the acting game for the world of politics.

September 12, 2003|Nora Zamichow | Times Staff Writer

Some of Arnold Schwarzenegger's biggest fans wish a recall of their own. They want the man they call Arnold to remain an action hero.

"There are so many politicians who could fill the role of governor but there's only one Arnold," said Randy Jennings, 32, a San Jose resident and president of an Internet fan club. "The fans want Arnold as a Terminator and as a Barbarian. Not a politician."

The former Mr. Universe's bid for governor sent groupies reeling. Internet chat rooms buzz with talk of betrayal and mourning. A petition has been launched begging Schwarzenegger, 56, to keep acting.

"I don't know if Arnold has thought this out," said Mark Baccus, 26, author of the Internet petition and a cashier at an electronics store in Cambridge, Mass. "I don't want to be selfish, but I'll be kind of mad if he doesn't do movies anymore."

The path of entertainer to politician is well trod, but Schwarzenegger is the first superstar trying to make the leap. And, Schwarzenegger would be changing roles while his name is still big at the box office.

Jennings and others underscore a serious political issue for Schwarzenegger: Will his battalions of avid fans translate to an on-the-ground political force?

Jennings, who works as a graphic designer, has been a Schwarzenegger fan since age 11. He calls the actor by his first name with the familiarity of a family member. He has watched each of his movies at least three times in theaters. (Some, like "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Terminator," he has seen 20 times.) He owns every one of his movies. He has a roomful of Schwarzenegger mugs, sunglasses, playing cards, board games, puzzles and lunchboxes.

But will he vote for the actor?

It depends.

If Schwarzenegger appears headed for a landslide, Jennings will proudly vote for him. This would, however, be the first time that Jennings has ever voted in the race for governor.

If the election is close, Jennings said he may cast his vote for another candidate so Schwarzenegger can make two movies that fans anxiously await: "Terminator 4" and "King Conan."

"If I had my choice, I'd chose that he wouldn't run," said Jennings, whose Web site, The ArnoldFans.com, is considered one of the largest with about 10 million hits a month. In an effort to learn more about its constituents, the site ran an online poll that showed 75% of those logging on were between ages 18 and 35.

At the moment, Schwarzenegger's fans are a wild card, analysts say. Their youthfulness places them in a group that tends to be apolitical, said Darrell West, professor of political science at Brown University.

"It'll be a challenge in a short campaign to convert fans to voters because many of those people don't have a history of voting," said West, co-author of "Celebrity Politics." "The $64,000 question is whether his celebrity appeal will yield votes."

For celebrities, the rules of campaigning are different: They don't answer questions until they're ready, they don't spend money on gaining name recognition, and they have fans, said West. "Celebrity politicians are not like conventional politicians."

But transforming fans to voters will mean focusing their attention and "goosing them along to register," said Jack Citrin, professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

Mobilizing fans can be arduous and time consuming "because they're amorphous--they're united by affection for Schwarzenegger but have no other ties of geography or political predilection," said West.Schwarzenegger's entry into politics could signal the end of his acting career. In truth, the professional crossover may well come at an opportune moment for the aging action hero. Three recent, and expensive, movies--"Collateral Damage," "The 6th Day," and "End of Days"--failed to catch fire at the box office.

Enthusiasts, however, are ever hopeful about Schwarzenegger's future and the prospect he might quit acting leaves them choking with disappointment.

"I considered myself one of Arnold's biggest fans and i am so saddened, so angered, feel so cheated, deceived by Arnold," wrote TerminatorT-850, a reference to a model of the first Terminator machine played by Schwarzenegger.

"The guy in all reality had five more years to play an action hero

Others grappled with how their lives would be affected.

"Is it entirely unfeasible he couldn't film a Conan sequel whilst running or being governor?" asked someone named Antiriad.

For Chad Donohue, an unpaid news writer for TheArnold Fans.com, the Terminator's move to politics is baffling.

"What can he possibly hope to gain? Piles of paperwork and public scrutiny, endless loopholes and a fraction of the pay?" he said.

Donohue, whose Internet name is Al Beback, worries about whether his hero will fail in the unscripted world of politics.

"On screen, Arnold is the answer to every problem," said Donohue, "but in politics, he'll be one more man in a system that needs large-scale reform."

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