- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Conservatives yesterday indicated more support for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bid to become governor of California.

But they still stood ready to jump to one of two other major Republican candidates if the “Terminator” star stumbles badly in the campaign to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s performance in a televised press conference Wednesday drew qualified praise from both economic and social conservatives.

“I give Arnold an A-minus,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “The Hollywood media fawn all over him, and there was speculation that he was unprepared for the political press, that it would eat him for lunch. It didn’t.”

Mr. Coupal and other conservatives generally agreed that Mr. Schwarzenegger — who leads Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante by 23 percent to 18 percent in the latest poll — showed charm and ease in fielding reporters’ questions.

Businessman Bill Simon, last year’s failed Republican nominee against Mr. Davis, and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock are the other candidates with significant conservative support in the Oct. 7 recall campaign. The Bush White House has been pressuring both men to drop out in favor of Mr. Schwarzenegger.

“Certainly, I think that McClintock — a hundred-percenter on the tax issue — and Bill Simon might have to be our fallback guys if Arnold stumbles badly,” Mr. Coupal said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s press conference went a good way — if not far enough — toward improving his image with conservatives on economic and tax issues.

“Arnold did a good job. You can’t take it away from him,” said Ted Costa, who initiated the successful petition drive to put the recall question on the ballot. “He took command of the press conference, which is exactly what someone who aspires to be a leader should do.”

Mr. Costa, who backs Mr. McClintock, added, “But no, Arnold didn’t satisfy all my economic concerns.”

Lewis Uhler, a leader in California’s antitax movement, said he was “very impressed with Arnold’s presence.”

“He rehabilitated himself on fiscal issues in terms of his commitment to maintaining Proposition 13.”

Proposition 13 is the property-tax cap Californians passed in 1978. The measure remains very popular among voters and is a defining issue for the state Republican Party.

Mr. Costa said conservatives are suspicious of Mr. Schwarzenegger because he hired a lot of staff from former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, now chairman of the movie star’s campaign and regarded by many conservatives as a tax-and-spend Republican during his two-term governorship.

California’s social conservatives are still more cautious about Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has espoused liberal views on abortion and other key issues.

“I am still concerned Arnold has not yet touched base with the body politic,” said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, a Californian who heads the Traditional Values Coalition. “Will the euphoria for him have staying power?”

Terry Cantrell, an evangelical Christian activist in Orange County, says Mr. Schwarzenegger’s celebrity has helped persuade most Republican leaders that he is their best hope of replacing Mr. Davis with a Republican.

“California is in a desperate situation and Arnold Schwarzenegger is what we consider a compromise candidate,” Mr. Cantrell said.

“If conservative Republicans are going to get behind him, he will have to make some very strong statements about cutting government and taxes,” said Mr. Cantrell. “I would vote for him if I thought he would pursue those policies.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger on Wednesday pledged to reform the state’s workmen’s compensation program, which is major issue for Mr. McClintock.

“Last year [the church school] paid $21,000 a year in premiums for workmen’s comp, but we’ve had claims of less than $5,000 over the last 30 years,” said Mr. Cantrell. “I have yet to hear a solution, except from McClintock, who has addressed workmen’s compensation more than any other candidate.”

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