- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to be one of the two biggest hits at a Republican governors’ meeting here, even though he was 3,000 miles away in a place he calls “Callefornea.”

From Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to Mississippi Gov.-elect Haley Barbour — the other big hit — to Kentucky Gov.-elect Ernie Fletcher, Republicans agreed that the Terminator has injected additional energy into the Republican Party, potentially further broadening its appeal to voters.

“I want to apologize to all of you for not being there,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said from Sacramento, Calif., in a teleconference call Friday night to the Republican Governors’ Association annual conference.

“I, of course, would have loved coming down to Florida and party with you guys, and get a little bit more knowledge about all of this,” said the Austrian immigrant and actor-turned-politician.

Explaining that he couldn’t attend because he was “in the middle of a big meeting” about a plan to solve the fiscal crisis in California that he inherited, Mr. Schwarzenegger said he just wanted to say hello to his fellow governors “out there having a good time in Florida.”

In specifically congratulating Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Barbour for their gubernatorial victories earlier this month, Mr. Schwarzenegger, in his now widely imitated Austrian accent, called Mr. Barbour “HALL-ee.” That caused Mr. Bush, serving as host and master of ceremonies, to quip that Mr. Barbour is the first female governor from Mississippi.

Next up, Mr. Barbour opened his address to the conference by saying, in his river-deep Mississippi accent: “I never thought at a Republican conference like this I’d be the one with the second-worst accent.”

Mr. Barbour went on to deliver an impassioned speech, saying that the three Republican gubernatorial victories this month illustrated a basic principle that Republicans need to follow.

“When we run positive campaigns and talk about issues, we win, because the other side doesn’t have issues it can talk about,” he said.

Mr. Bush said that Mr. Schwarzenegger is a star unlike anyone else in the Republican Party, with the exception of his brother, the president. Mr. Bush urged Republicans not to abandon the party’s limited-government agenda.

The Florida governor said he can’t wait to have the former Hollywood action star attend an RGA conference, and then added with a laugh, “But Arnold will suck up all the air here.”

That drew more laughter and applause from the other governors, who clearly were willing to be upstaged by a fellow Republican with the name recognition that Mr. Schwarzenegger possesses.

But it was Mr. Schwarzenegger who kept the conference laughing the longest and loudest. “I hope that the next time we can have the governors’ conference out here in California because we need tourism, we need dollars, we need revenue,” he said.

Republicans were basking in the glow after having won three out of four gubernatorial races this fall. The only race the party lost was in Louisiana, where Democrat Kathleen Blanco won an open Republican governor’s seat by running on a conservative, pro-life agenda.

The governors’ main complaint at the conference this year is that, with the presidential elections less than a year away, the White House is failing to advertise its successes — the war on terrorism and the rebounding economy.

“The Democrats are attacking the president’s greatest strength — the feeling of trust people have in him,” Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said. “They are claiming that the administration fabricated reasons for going to war with Iraq.

“What the president did in Iraq is easily defensible, but we are not making the case,” Mr. Carcieri said.

Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2004, offered a list of the administration’s foreign- and domestic-policy successes.

“Some criticize [the presidents] war on terror as unilateral or pre-emptive,” he said. “But didn’t September 11 teach us that we cannot wait while threats gather? That we must connect the dots, even if other nations refuse to see the pattern?”

Republicans head into next year’s elections controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. They also hold a 28-22 majority of governorships and control more state legislatures than Democrats.

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