Schwarzenegger will try to win over conservative GOP

Friday, September 12, 2003

and Erica Werner ~ The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Arnold Schwarzenegger may have to turn in another one of his blockbuster performances when he goes before delegates to the state Republican Party convention this weekend.

The Terminator will be trying to win over the party's conservative wing and get the GOP to unite behind him for governor in the Oct. 7 election to recall Democrat Gray Davis. But the convention delegates could be the toughest audience of Schwarzenegger's career.

The actor's politics -- he supports abortion rights, gay domestic partnerships and some gun control -- are more liberal than those of the many activists who will dominate the convention. And many of them are backing state Sen. Tom McClintock, an energetic conservative who refuses to drop out of the race.

The Schwarzenegger camp will try to make the case that the Republicans need a winner, not a purist, and that the action hero represents their best hope of reclaiming at least some power in the nation's most populous state.

California Republicans "have been in a long dry spell, and he wants to restore Republican viability within the state," Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Rob Stutzman said.

In recent years, Republicans have lost statewide elections after they nominated candidates too conservative for left-leaning California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 44 percent to 35 percent. Last year, they picked conservative businessman Bill Simon over former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the GOP primary for governor, only to see Simon lose to Davis.

Bruce Herschensohn, the conservative GOP nominee for Senate who lost to Democrat Barbara Boxer in 1992, is backing McClintock and said he knows there is a risk to that position.

"I'll vote for the person I agree with most," Herschensohn said. Otherwise, "my conscience would bother me tremendously. I can't do it."

Most polls show McClintock in third place, behind Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger supporters want McClintock to drop out for fear he will be the spoiler.

McClintock said the polls show he is the one with real momentum.

"The election's not for another month," McClintock said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News. "If the momentum we've had in the first half of this race continues into the next half, we'll be in very good shape on election day, and after all, that's why they call it a race."

So far, Schwarzenegger has not joined his supporters in calling for McClintock to quit. Instead, he has praised him, saying, "We stand in many ways for the same things."

That is what observers say Schwarzenegger will have to prove when he speaks to the conservatives Saturday.

"He might not convince the true believers, but it's smart for him to show that he's willing to fight for it," said Republican strategist Dan Schnur.

Schwarzenegger's camp has sought to gather support from conservative party leaders in advance of the convention. Last Friday Schwarzenegger had dinner with Simon, who dropped his own recall bid last month. And former Gov. George Deukmejian said Thursday the campaign has reached out to him, too.

But both Simon and Deukmejian are staying neutral for now.

"I just don't want to get in the middle of this," Deukmejian said.

Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican who has endorsed Schwarzenegger, said the party risks blowing a huge opportunity if it fails to consolidate behind Schwarzenegger.

"I think the people of California will hold the Republican Party accountable if we fail to correct the terrible administration of Gray Davis-Bustamante, and we squander a second opportunity within a year," Jones said.

With less than four weeks before the election, Schwarzenegger also has to recover from some blows he has taken from both the left and the right, as well as some self-inflicted wounds.

Because he has offered few specifics on certain key issues, his advisers, such as former Gov. Pete Wilson and billionaire investor Warren Buffett, have filled in the gaps. Wilson said Schwarzenegger backed Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have denied some social services to illegal immigrants. And Buffett questioned whether the state's tax-cutting Proposition 13 left some Californians paying too little in taxes.

Schwarzenegger and his campaign team scrambled to contain the damage, while also trying to deal with some old interviews, such as one Schwarzenegger gave the magazine Oui in 1977. The former bodybuilder's comments about group sex, homosexuals and drug use riled both conservatives and women's groups.

Associated Press Writer Beth Fouhy reported from San Francisco, while Erica Werner reported from Los Angeles.

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