Sunday, October 19, 2003

If Arnold Schwarzenegger can be elected governor of California, can comedian Dennis Miller unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer?

Some Republicans in the Golden State think so, and quietly hope they can persuade the sharp political wit — and registered Santa Barbara Republican — to take on the liberal senator. Variety magazine reported this week that Mr. Miller has contacted California Republican consultants to feel out a campaign.

One California Republican political consultant called a Miller candidacy “sort of a cool idea,” and a state party spokesman said Mr. Miller’s recent exposure as a Republican is “a plus.”

Yet, the chances of a repeat of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s quick march from actor to officeholder, seem slim.

“Internally, in the party, I haven’t heard any serious discussions about recruiting him,” said Mike Wintemute, spokesman for the California Republican Party. “We have a number of strong candidates in that race.”

Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative radio personality credited by many for helping to spur the California recall, has doubts that celebrity political magic could strike twice.

“A Miller candidacy guarantees the ability to get a message past gatekeepers like the Los Angeles Times. That’s a huge plus,” Mr. Hewitt said. “But the message also has to work in a Republican primary, and I’m not sure what Miller believes outside of a very appealing understanding of the war on terror. So there’s a lot of potential there, but some questions as well.”

Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the Schwarzenegger campaign “energized” the California party “where we were able to attract lots of new Republicans” to the polls.

Party leaders are convinced that the Schwarzenegger victory will make the race against Mrs. Boxer more competitive, but not necessarily because another celebrity candidate will emerge.

“It remains to be seen,” Mr. Allen said. “I think the message that Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered during the campaign — lower taxes, more responsible government, and moving the state forward — are things the Republicans can talk about across the spectrum.”

Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called the idea of Mr. Miller’s candidacy a “joke.”

“The first joke is that Barbara Boxer is vulnerable, and the second joke is that Dennis Miller would make a formidable candidate,” Mr. Woodhouse said.

Talk of a Miller candidacy began to swirl in California after he actively campaigned for Mr. Schwarzenegger, often taking pointed jabs at Democratic Gov. Gray Davis for his “perpetually cocked-in-the-direction-of-special-interests ear.”

On nationally televised talk shows — and in his capacity as a weekly political commentator for the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” — Mr. Miller has not been shy about being partisan.

Though Mr. Miller once chafed at being called a “conservative hero” by Sean Hannity, Mr. Miller has expressed his strong support for President Bush.

Republican operatives in Washington say privately they will likely put their hopes — and resources — into a more conventional candidate, such as former California Secretary of State Bill Jones or state Sen. Tony Strickland.

“I don’t think there has been any real talk about [a Miller candidacy] other than what has been in the papers,” one Republican operative said. “That’s not to say people are pooh-poohing the idea of Miller, or that he is not legit. But I think people are more focused on traditional candidates.”

David Horowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, said Mr. Miller would be an interesting candidate, but wonders why he would give up the good life of show business for politics.

“It’d be a great loss to comedy,” Mr. Horowitz said. “I like Dennis Miller. I think he is very appealing, I just don’t know why he would want to do it.”

Unlike Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Miller has not spent years laying the groundwork for a run for public office.

“Arnold did not just come out of the blue and do this,” Mr. Horowitz said.

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