Tuesday, August 12, 2003

California Democrats are poised to attack gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger for his lack of experience and opposition to welfare for illegal immigrants — and with wild tales of his personal history.

Beating them to the punch, however, are the Republican movie star-turned-candidate’s more conservative rivals. Conservatives have gone on the attack against Mr. Schwarzenegger, seeking to pump life into campaigns that have been eclipsed by celebrity frenzy.

“Let Arnold tell us where he stands,” said Bill Simon, a Republican businessman who lost to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in November. “The people of California know where I stand. I’m sure he’s studying hard on the issues and we’ll hear from him shortly.”

California State Sen. Tom McClintock — a conservative Republican who trumpets that when he ran for state comptroller last year he received more statewide votes than Mr. Simon — mocked Mr. Schwarzenegger’s credentials for the office.

“There’s a great deal that I’m sure Arnold Schwarzenegger could teach me about making movies,” Mr. McClintock said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “There’s a great deal I could teach him about the fiscal reforms necessary to set this state right. But there’s no time for training.”

Joe Cerell, a veteran California Democrat campaign operative, said such Republican swipes at the famous front-runner help Mr. Davis because the recall effort is now closely tied to Mr. Schwarzenegger’s personal popularity.

“Let them do it,” Mr. Cerell said. “There’s no reason [for Democrats] to get down into the mud. [Republicans] will do it all. Try it out for a month and stay above the fray.”

Mr. Davis has a reputation as a fierce political fighter. By staying quiet and letting Republicans attack Mr. Schwarzenegger, observers say, Mr. Davis can hope voters begin to agree with him that the recall has made a joke of a proud state.

“The more [Mr. Davis] actively campaigns, the more he is part of the circus and can’t denounce it,” said Ken Masugi of the Claremont Institute in California. “When everyone is cursing you, the worst thing you can do is open your mouth and draw attention to yourself.”

Mr. Cerell suggested that Mr. Davis busy himself with the routine and “dull” activities of government to stress his professionalism, and the governor did just that yesterday.

Mr. Davis signed a series of bills, including one requiring California’s Travel and Tourism Commission to work with the legislature and governor on its marketing plan. But at the same time, Mr. Davis said his budget cuts had eliminated the state tourism program, so the measure was effectively moot.

The recall promises to be anything but dull. Voters Oct. 7 will simultaneously cast ballots on two questions — whether Mr. Davis should be recalled and who should replace him. If the recall fails to garner a majority of “yes” votes, the gubernatorial vote is meaningless. Mr. Davis is not a candidate on the second part of the ballot.

Polls suggest Mr. Davis stands little chance of hanging onto the governorship, and even San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a staunch Davis ally, now says, “If you had to bet [on Mr. Davis beating the recall], you’d have a better shot at the lottery.”

Attention has turned to the question of who will get the plurality of votes needed to become California’s next governor.

The California secretary of state’s office yesterday announced that the ballot will have 247 candidates for governor. That could boost Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose name recognition is a major advantage in the crowded field.

Conservatives who have long criticized Mr. Davis are going after Mr. Schwarzenegger. Radio talk-show hosts have not been shy to slam Mr. Schwarzenegger’s positions supporting abortion, homosexual rights and gun control.

Mr. Schwarzenegger may be able to assuage enough conservatives, however, with his allegiance to free-market economics and his support for Proposition 187 — a 1994 ballot initiative to end state benefits to illegal immigrants that won 59 percent of the vote but was nullified by court rulings.

Mr. Schwarzenegger will “say enough,” to placate conservatives, Mr. Masugi said. “If he touches on a few hot-button conservative issues, that will be enough to satisfy most conservatives.”

But if Republicans don’t attack Mr. Schwarzenegger with stories about the actor’s past womanizing, drug use and accusations of sexual harassment, the Davis campaign can be expected to use those charges in the closing weeks of the campaign, Mr. Cerell explained.

“You start using all the stuff that everyone has,” he said. “You accumulate it and you unload on him.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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