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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Actor's Team Sprints, but Can It Finish a Marathon?

A delayed election might mean defections among Schwarzenegger's many professional advisors.

September 19, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak and Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writers

For weeks, Arnold Schwarzenegger has run a lavish campaign -- more like a bid for president than a run for California governor.

A private jet ferries him to events, and personal bodyguards shadow his every step, Secret Service-like. A small army of handsomely paid aides fills his Santa Monica headquarters --others spill into a second building -- and TV ads air virtually round-the-clock, alone costing the campaign roughly $2 million a week.

The expensive trappings have given Schwarzenegger, a first-time candidate, a political stature that even his Hollywood celebrity fails to confer. His team includes some of the best talent the Republican Party has to offer. He draws from issue advisors, such as investor Warren E. Buffett, who are the cream of their professions.

But Schwarzenegger's free-spending ways carry a cost, and not just the millions the actor is shelling out each week.

In interviews, campaign aides and others familiar with the Schwarzenegger operation who spoke on condition that they not be identified described a bureaucratic organization, riven with disputes and slow to make strategic decisions.

Aides have long predicted a certain amount of tension would occur, given the sudden start of Schwarzenegger's candidacy and the candidate's desire to include nonpolitical advisors in the campaign.

"It's natural that there would be a process ... to bringing together all the facets of the world of Arnold," Jill Eisenstadt, the actor's Hollywood publicist and part of his campaign effort, said in a recent interview.

The problems may be manageable in a short campaign -- such as the snap election anticipated when the recall vote was set for Oct. 7. But many Republicans invested in Schwarzenegger's success have begun fretting over how the candidate might fare if court decisions stretch the race all the way to March.

Even someone with Schwarzenegger's enormous wealth could have a difficult time sustaining the current rate of spending. The budget for his campaign, planned for an Oct. 7 election, is $22 million, or nearly $3 million a week for an eight-week contest.

"Part of me thinks if it were pushed back to March, it might actually do the campaign a favor by allowing them to organize themselves in a more effective manner," said one Republican operative familiar with the campaign's inner workings. "They threw this thing together so quickly, and really they have too many people not doing enough. It's just a giant layer of bureaucracy on top of a layer of bureaucracy, which is not how a campaign should operate."

Several key aides, who signed up with Schwarzenegger assuming a short stint, have privately indicated their plans to move on should the race continue for several more months.

Most successful campaigns have a small core of top strategists, who typically have gone back a number of years with the candidate and are responsible for quickly making important decisions during a race. In the Schwarzenegger camp, however, various factions have vied for favor with the candidate and his chief advisor, wife Maria Shriver, according to inside accounts.

"The campaign is very slow moving," said a Sacramento strategist. "They put out word that certain actions will happen: They'll put out different plans, hold specific press conferences, and they don't happen."

But a spokesman insisted that the campaign has achieved miracles, given its rapid start-up and the pressures since.

"We're pretty satisfied that we're a modern marvel," said press secretary Rob Stutzman. "There are demands on this campaign that no other campaign in this state has ever had to deal with. The press interest is presidential level. The logistics of travel and public events are presidential level because of the size crowds the candidate draws.

"And yet in the past 40 days, he's emerged as the front-runner, poised to take the governor's chair within the next few weeks," Stutzman said.

Despite some missteps, Schwarzenegger continues to lead his top Republican rival, state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousands Oaks, in opinion polls. He remains competitive, as well, with Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the top Democrat in the contest to replace Gov. Gray Davis, if he is ousted from office.

Friends see the best of Schwarzenegger reflected in his campaign's disparate collection of advisors in assorted camps.

"He really is about six different personalities, and he's loyal to those six different constituencies," said Augie Nieto, a longtime friend who originated the LifeCycle exercise bike that Schwarzenegger often mentions on the campaign trail.

"He has always tried to create a synergy between all those parts of him -- he puts bodybuilders in his movies, he gets the business people he works with to contribute to his charities," Nieto said. "He knows a lot of people and he will ask them for help."

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