NEW YORK — “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly has become a symbol for Democrats who charge that the California governor’s prime-time speech shows a Republican Party desperately trying to distance itself from it conservative core.
But when the Austrian-born bodybuilder with the much-parodied accent takes to the national stage tonight at the Republican National Convention, he will appear as a popular politician with hopes to cast the Republican Party as a middle-of-the-road party that embraces dissent and diversity among its rank and file.
“Governor Schwarzenegger presents, obviously beyond the star power, one of the most successful faces in the party, who has broad bipartisan appeal, who’s been able to govern as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate,” said his spokesman, Rob Stutzman.
“His is the quintessential Republican story, a tribute to self-determination and a tribute to what can be accomplished when opportunity is presented to you — it’s the American dream writ large by an immigrant.”
The Bush-Cheney campaign, which has courted its conservative base in the past few months, is cognizant of the governor’s appeal to moderates, as is the case with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who eagerly was courted by Democrats for the vice-presidential slot on Sen. John Kerry’s ticket.
Democrats complain that the show of diversity — not only via liberal Republicans such as Mr. Schwarzenegger, but with the inclusion of blacks, Hispanics and women in the program — is nothing more than a sham.
“Republicans are going to fake it all week during their convention by putting moderates and women and minorities on stage, but the American people need to look no further than their record to see who they really are and what they really believe,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said a day before the Republican convention opened.
DNC Communications Director Jano Cabrera said yesterday that the appearance of Mr. Schwarzenegger is emblematic of the entire convention.
“They’re putting forward an actor to speak on behalf of the Republican Party,” he said.
“There’s a reason why they’ve put forward McCain, Schwarzenegger, Giuliani. These individuals are popular with moderates, but not with the conservative Republican base,” he said. “They want to send the message that they’re representative of Republicans as a whole, when in fact they are not.”
He dismissed the Republican boast that the party is a “big tent” with room for widely differing views.
“Of course, they have different viewpoints — they’re just often ignored and marginalized until they can trot them out on stage to try to present them as representative of the party as a whole. The only time moderates get any attention by the Republican Party is during their convention. Otherwise, they’re shunned,” Mr. Cabrera said.
But one senior Republican with ties to the White House said it is no secret that the Bush campaign is seeking voters whose views are more centrist and who might be weighing whether to support President Bush’s re-election bid.
“The Republican Party is not simply one idea, take it or leave it,” the official said. “The party is far bigger than that, and there is room for many, many viewpoints within it. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger embodies that spirit.”
Mr. Stutzman also said Democrats are scrambling to portray Republicans as out of step with America, when it is their party that is monolithic.
“Diversity within the party is not something we try to hide; it’s something the governor celebrates. He thinks it’s great to have a party where you can have such a wide range of views, but can still ultimately agree on who should be governing the country for the next four years. You’re seeing more diversity in New York than you did in Boston, without question,” he said.
Still, Mr. Schwarzenegger is notably at odds with the president on several high-profile issues, among them homosexual “marriage,” stem-cell research and abortion. The pro-choice governor parlayed that centrist platform into a stunning win in California last year.
Yet, he has no intention of brooking divisions during a time of party unity. Although the governor, who appears open to homosexual unions in California, was a featured honoree on Sunday at a luncheon thrown by the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual advocacy group, he was a no-show.
In fact, during his stay, the governor will maintain a decidedly low profile. He arrived last night, but did not allow the press to photograph him at the airport and has no public schedule today until his prime-time speech.
His 15- to 20-minute speech tonight will be a “personal” tale of his rise and will include effusive praise for the president, Mr. Stutzman said, adding that the White House has not “vetted” his speech. Tomorrow, he will appear at a public school in Harlem to promote the effectiveness of after-school programs.
On Thursday, he has a “red-carpet arrival” at the Manhattan Planet Hollywood, where he will preside over a California delegation lunch that is closed to the press. Later that day, he will sits down with California reporters.
Mr. Schwarzenegger might leave New York before Mr. Bush’s speech on Thursday, but not because he fears he will detract from the president: The California state legislature just adjourned after putting 1,000 bills onto the governor’s desk.
“A thousand bills is a lot of work,” Mr. Stutzman said.