- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

LOS ANGELES.

Mr. Universe may or may not be the ultimate Republican dreamboat, but who could better suit Californians, who live in a universe very different from the rest of us?
Ready or not, here comes the Terminator, muscles still bulging at 55, with wit, whimsy and wisecracks. Arnold Schwarzenegger fortunately for newspaper copy desks everywhere, he's already called just 'S' here on the Left Coast is still playing at coy but he's already the front-runner for governor in '06.
That's too long for a lot of California Republicans to wait, so they're talking him up for '04, when he could try to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is regarded as highly vulnerable in a state that may be swinging just a degree or so to the right once more, and who is distantly related by marriage, sort of, to Bill and Hillary. A run at Mzz Boxer could be cast, sort of, as a trial run at Hillary. (Far-fetched, maybe, but California, after all, is where fantasy is a cottage industry; every check-out clerk at Trader Joe's and Ralph's Supermarkets has a movie script in the glove compartment of his battered Toyota Corolla.)
The Terminator has just terminated his first statewide race, a hugely successful appeal to Californians to enact Proposition 49, to provide after-school programs for kids so they won't grow up to join the gangs that bedevil California cities (and whose farm clubs have sprung up in cities as far away as Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee).
The Terminator's success, coupled with the late surge by Bill Simon that persuaded some Republicans that a slightly better effort could have toppled Gray Davis earlier this month, has brightened considerably the dismal mood of the Republicans here. Not so long ago the Republicans were riding high, but three straight Democratic presidential blowouts (two by Bill Clinton, one by Al Gore) had persuaded some people to write off California as another Massachusetts, only a lot bigger, with more blondes and better beaches. That changed on Nov. 5.
The Terminator seems made for California, where celebrity is all (just like a lot of other places, in fact) and there's a rich tradition of sending movie actors to Sacramento and beyond. If Jane Fonda had not moved to Atlanta with Ted Turner, some wistful Californians are saying, '06 could have been a vintage year for show-biz showdowns. Barring passage of a constitutional amendment to make it possible, the Terminator, a native Austrian, can't entertain dreams of following an earlier famous actor to the White House.
Nevertheless, the Ronald Reagan precedent is driving a lot of California dreamin'. The Terminator already has the spit and polish of an accomplished politician. This astonished some people, always eager to find reasons to diss Republicans, who were ready to write him off. He has the Gipper's self-deprecating wit (as well as the ready-made nickname). He typically disarmed these critics at appearances up and down California in behalf of Proposition 49.
"You have had some great people speak to you here," he told a gathering of San Francisco's elite at the Commonwealth Club. "Presidents, prime ministers, senators, business tycoons, humanitarian leaders. I was a little nervous about this. Then I thought, 'But how many have been Mr. Universe? Or been Danny DeVito's twin? Or acted with Sharon Stone?'"
Mr. Schwarzenegger has already become factor enough in Democratic calculations that Democrats are talking about how best to neutralize his charm and effectiveness. One of the most prominent Democrats, for example, warned the governor to ease up on his early pounding of Bill Simon lest he pull a Torricellian drop-out to lure the Terminator in as a write-in candidate for governor: Said Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco, a former speaker of the state Assembly, to the governor: "He'd win."
Democrats here reckon, and certain Republican analysts and consultants agree, that he could be stopped best in a Republican primary. He makes no pretense of being a social-issues Republican. He may be more liberal than Richard Riordan, the mayor of Los Angeles who was defeated in the Republican gubernatorial primary by Bill Simon. He's pro-choice and pro-homosexual rights, for example, and his selection of the after-school initiative puts him squarely in the goo-goo cluster of feel-good initiatives so beloved by California's squishy middle. And of course he is married to Maria Shriver, one of the Kennedys, with whom he gets along very well. That makes him suspect with many Republican primary voters, who may or may not be so weary of losing statewide races that they would be willing to swallow a little ideology to get another winner. Ideology aside, he talks the talk Republicans and conservatives and a lot of independents like to hear.
"Leadership is the most needed thing in California politics," he told the L.A. Weekly after concluding his campaign. "Not wimps!"
Whatever else a Terminator is, he is not a wimp. When Maria Shriver told her family that she would marry a ruff-and-tuff Republican, she was ready for their incredulity. "I don't want you to think of him as a Republican," she said. "I want you to think of him as the man I love. Or if not that, think of him as someone who could squash you like a bug."


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