Union Tribune

August 7, 2003

Schwarzenegger cheered; Feinstein says Davis can win

By John Marelius


BURBANK With an announcement that apparently surprised his closest advisers and instantly transformed the move to recall Gov. Gray Davis into a Hollywood spectacle, action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday declared he will run for governor in the Oct. 7 special election.

Schwarzenegger made the announcement to wild cheers from the audience of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" after signaling for nearly two weeks that he was not going to run.

The announcement came just hours after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California's most popular political figure, removed perhaps the greatest obstacle to Davis' political survival by declaring she would not be a candidate.

"I made my decision that it is possible for Gray Davis to win this recall, and that we ought to give him, as Democrats, the fairest shot at doing it," Feinstein said. "And all I know is that the fairest shot meant that I wouldn't be in it."

At the same time, Feinstein publicly second-guessed Davis' strategy for beating the recall, which he has portrayed as an attempted right-wing coup.

She called that "a failed strategy from the get-go" and said Davis needs to do a more effective job of making a positive case for his stewardship of the state.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, made it clear that his campaign will be not just against Davis, but rather an outsider populist insurgency against the entire political class of both parties.

The 56-year-old actor said the recall should serve as a warning to politicians across the country that people are fed up with politics as usual.

"That is a message from California all the way to the East Coast to all politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, to say to them: Do your job for the people and do it well or otherwise you are out. Hasta la vista, baby!"

Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born one-time bodybuilder, declared that he was running for governor to "pump up Sacramento."

"The special interests are running the state and not any more the politicians. That's why I want to clean up Sacramento," he said. "I want to go in there, reform the system so it's back in the people's hands. The people should make the decisions, rather than special interests."

The stunning entry of a larger-than-life action hero dramatically changes the dynamics of what was already shaping up to be a bizarre campaign. But it's unclear how.

While Schwarzenegger may be an international celebrity, he is a little-known quantity politically.

His only venture into the political arena has been his sponsorship of last year's successful ballot initiative Proposition 49, to provide money for after-school programs.

His campaign platform plainly will be a work in progress.

At a late-afternoon press conference, he spoke in general terms about improving the California business climate and public education, but waved off questions about specific issues, such as the current legislation to allow people in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses.

He was undaunted by the prospect of a rough-and-tumble campaign over the next two months.

"I know they're going to throw everything at me," he said on the Leno show. "They're going to, you know, say that I have no experience, that I'm a womanizer, that I'm a terrible guy. The awfulest kind of things are going to come my way."

"We all know that Gray Davis can run a dirty campaign better than anybody," he said. "But he doesn't know how to run a state."

The Davis camp dismissed Schwarzenegger's entry as merely compounding the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the recall.

"Today, one more name has been added to the long list of candidates in this recall election," said Steve Smith, director of Californians Against the Costly Recall. "Arnold Schwarzenegger now joins a list that includes Darrell Issa, Bill Simon, Tom McClintock, two Huffingtons, Larry Flynt and even (billboard model) Angelyne."

Seasoned team
Schwarzenegger has been contemplating a political career for some time and assembled a seasoned team of strategists that once advised former Gov. Pete Wilson.

During an international promotional tour of his latest movie, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," he dropped frequent playful hints about the recall and his imminent candidacy.

But upon returning two weeks ago, he began having second thoughts and advisers began putting out the word that he was unlikely to run.

Schwarzenegger even began making arrangements to turn his political team over to his close friend, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who said he might enter the race if Schwarzenegger did not.

Riordan had no immediate comment on Schwarzenegger's apparent change of heart.

As late as yesterday afternoon, aides were prepared to distribute a written statement before the taping of the Leno show explaining Schwarzenegger's decision not to run.

"I have nothing for you. We still don't know," spokesman Sean Walsh said as the actor's entourage approached the NBC studio.

Afterward, Schwarzenegger said he made up his mind in the last few days but didn't tell anybody outside his family.

Although his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver, was said to be against the race because of its effect on the couple's four children, he said she ultimately gave it her blessing.

New leadership?
He said he saw the recall as his political opportunity because the more than 1.6 million people who signed recall petitions to force the election were clamoring for a different kind of leadership.

"Those 1.6 million people said, 'We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore,' " Schwarzenegger said.

Noting that he spent $1.5 million of his own money to pass Proposition 49, he said he intended to spend whatever it takes to win the governorship.

"I'm the action hero," he said. "I don't just talk about it."

Feinstein's decision not to run was a major boost for Davis, though some other congressional Democrats who had urged her to run vowed to continue seeking a fallback candidate in case Davis is recalled.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, is continuing to consider a candidacy, an aide said.

Other Democrats who are considered potential candidates include state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and former Secretary of State March Fong Eu.

And there reportedly is still talk among congressional Democrats about trying to draft former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta.

Asked if she thought other Democrats should also refrain from running, Feinstein said, "Yes, by and large I do."

But she said she would not actively work to keep other Democrats off the ballot.

"I don't see that as my role," she said in a conference call from Aspen, Colo., where she was attending a policy seminar. "The only way you'd keep them off, I guess, is tie their hand behind the back so they couldn't sign the paper."

'Very pleased'
Some political analysts believed that Davis' chances to survive the recall would have been dealt a death blow if the popular, two-term senator had been among the candidates vying to succeed him.

Davis said he was "very pleased with Senator Feinstein's announcement."

"To the extent that Democrats get in the race, it makes it look like a normal election, and legitimates what is really an effort by the right wing to steal back an election they couldn't win last November," he said on radio station KGO in San Francisco.

"I think at the end of the day people will realize that the party is better served rallying around its sitting governor."

Meanwhile, columnist Arianna Huffington announced she would enter the race as an independent and direct her campaign to "people who have given up on politics."

"Today, I am announcing that I'm running for governor of the great state of California," said Huffington, who spoke at a rally at a Los Angeles youth center. "Those are 16 words I never thought I could hear myself say."

The Greek-born Huffington, who once endorsed Newt Gingrich for president, has gravitated to an eclectic mix of causes such as her recent crusade against SUVs.

"I'm not, to say the least, a conventional candidate," she said.

Her former husband, Michael Huffington, has taken out papers to run for governor, but has not made a final decision about entering the race, his spokesman, Bruce Nestande, said yesterday.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.