- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

Former President Bill Clinton yesterday made a plea on behalf of Gov. Gray Davis at a black church in Los Angeles while several former state Republican Party chairmen agreed to endorse actor Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor.

Mr. Clinton received roaring approval from the black congregation during an address at the First AME Church in South Central Los Angeles.

“You know you’re supposed to be humble in church,” he told the congregation. “You need to calm down. You’ll have me thinking I’m president again if you don’t calm down.”

Mr. Clinton’s appearance was part of his effort in California to help Mr. Davis, a Democrat, keep his job in the Oct. 7 recall election.

Despite his impeachment by the House toward the end of his second term as president, Mr. Clinton is still popular with rank-and-file Democrats and remains the top fund-raiser in his party. Some California Democrats said his appearance could turn things around for Mr. Davis.

Meanwhile, at the windup of the state Republican Party convention, also in Los Angeles, Mr. Schwarzenegger secured the endorsements of six former state party chairmen — an achievement that may broaden his appeal to the conservative base.

But the lone holdout, former state party Chairman Michael Schroeder, a conservative, said he would stick with his neutral position, endorsing neither Mr. Schwarzenegger nor his rival, conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock.

Despite Mr. Schwarzenegger’s celebrity, Mr. McClintock has been narrowing the gap in polls. Many rank-and-file Republicans regard the actor as a social liberal whose assertions to being an economic conservative are suspect.

“By endorsing Schwarzenegger, these conservative leaders are making the mistake of sending a message that says you can ignore conservatives, not give them anything on policy, and they will still support you,” Mr. Schroeder said.

Mr. Schroeder said he doubts whether the leaders who backed Mr. Schwarzenegger were speaking “only for themselves or grass-roots” conservative voters.

“Last time around, they were not able to bring conservatives around to [former Los Angeles Mayor Richard] Riordan,” Mr. Schroeder said. “I don’t see them bringing them around to Schwarzenegger this time.”

Mr. Riordan, a liberal Republican, lost the gubernatorial nomination to conservative Bill Simon, who went on to lose in the general election to Mr. Davis.

The former Republican Party chairmen who endorsed Mr. Schwarzenegger are Shawn Steel, John McGraw, Dr. Tirso del Junco, Frank Visco, Mike Montgomery and Robert Naylor.

Nonetheless, at least one prominent conservative and former Republican official grumbled privately: “Those endorsements are great, if you like the prospect of having a Rockefeller Republican as the next governor.”

The endorsements will appear on a letter to be released at a meeting of the 58 elected Republican county chairman on Sept. 28. The unprecedented meeting was called so that the chairmen, who normally remain neutral, could support a candidate for governor. That candidate will almost surely be Mr. Schwarzenegger, party sources said.

At a private, unreported meeting of the county chairmen, the vast majority told state party Chairman Duff Sundheim that they thought Mr. McClintock should withdraw in favor of Mr. Schwarzenegger, who they said has a better chance of winning.

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