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THE STATE | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Schwarzenegger Plays Up Family in 'Oprah' Talk

The hourlong session steers largely clear of political issues. He and Shriver describe the decision to run.

September 16, 2003|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Arnold Schwarzenegger climbed the bully pulpit of Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show Monday to portray himself as a devoted family man concerned about the fate of his adopted state.

In an hourlong appearance on the heavily anticipated season debut of "Oprah," Schwarzenegger and his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver, talked about the emotional -- and occasionally tearful -- discussions they had before Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election.

The interview rarely touched on political themes, and then only in sound-bite morsels. The appearance came before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that could delay the vote.

Schwarzenegger dismissed the attention that the national Democratic Party is giving the race, saying that appearances this week by former President Clinton on Gov. Gray Davis' behalf had more to do with presidential politics than California.

"Where have they been for the last five years, as California was declining?" Schwarzenegger said. "Everybody wants to protect California now.... They care more about winning presidencies. That's what this is all about."

Schwarzenegger again dismissed the details of a now-notorious 1977 Oui magazine interview, in which he boasted of sexual and drug exploits, repeating an earlier position that he had been boasting in an effort to draw public interest to the fledgling sport of bodybuilding.

At one point, Shriver briefly covered her husband's mouth after he quoted one of his own sexually tinged remarks from that era.

Shriver said she tries to ignore tabloid tales about her husband and his past. "I make my opinions based on the man sitting in front of me," she said.

Absent a discussion of issues, the show had the feel of old friends having a brief reunion, which in fact is what was happening. Winfrey introduced Shriver as a friend of more than 25 years, and, after Schwarzenegger joined them, displayed a picture of herself dressed in white as a member of Shriver's wedding party.

Shriver, a member of the extended Kennedy clan, said she initially opposed Schwarzenegger's entry into politics because she had grown up in a famously political family and had married the bodybuilder in part "to take me away" from the personal intrusions that come being a celebrity politician. "I know the way the process works," she said.

Ultimately, Shriver said, she agreed that he should run after what she referred to as "his passion" had become clear.

"I'm not going to stand in your way -- you have to do what you need to do," Shriver said she told him, adding that she saw the gesture as a payback for the support he had given her in her career as a network journalist. "He also made it clear that if I didn't want it, and the kids didn't want it, he wouldn't do it."

The couple described their family life as focused on their children, with Shriver watching over homework assignments and Schwarzenegger making sure the kids have chores to do -- including their own laundry.

And, Shriver said, Schwarzenegger is a devoted husband, waking her up in the morning with a cup of coffee and going out of his way to display his appreciation for the role she plays as wife and mother.

The themes played well with the mostly female audience.

Schwarzenegger, some said, came across as sincere and genuinely interested in governing California. Few knew the details of the Oui magazine revelations.

Most said that, even if Schwarzenegger's early comments hadn't been empty boasts, a lot of time had passed, and that the words should be taken within the context of the relatively freewheeling 1970s.

Lynda Jerit, 58, of Oak Park, Ill., said many people who had been young adults in that era had done things that they wouldn't want others to know about now.

"In a country as open as ours, people do things while they're growing up," she said, adding that to try to hold politicians to a "higher standard" invites dishonesty. "You're not going to get wonderful people -- you're going to get people who lie constantly."

The portrait of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver home as just another middle-American family struck a chord too.

"He gives his children chores; he's a big disciplinarian. If he's really like that, then he's probably sincere about running," said Kristy Trzeciac, 29, who had driven with four friends from northern Indiana to watch the taping.

Added Valerie Halston, 43, of the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge: "He sounded like a model husband. He really came across as sincere. He's got a really good chance with that attitude."

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