Riordan May Draft Actor’s Advisors

Times Staff Writers

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan is close to taking over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political team to run a possible campaign for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election, Riordan’s advisors said Thursday.

For Riordan, a Republican who began serious campaign preparations less than two weeks ago, taking over Schwarzenegger’s operation could ease a sudden entrance into a race that poses enormous strategic challenges for all the GOP candidates.

Collectively, they must persuade voters to vote yes on dumping Democratic incumbent Gray Davis, while simultaneously campaigning against one another in the winner-takes-all race to succeed him.

The race could be further complicated by the presence of Democratic candidates who could urge voters to keep Davis as governor while presenting themselves as viable alternatives in case he is kicked out of office.


Turning to Schwarzenegger’s staff would give Riordan one of the most seasoned campaign teams in California politics. Many strategists see a strong, cohesive campaign team as particularly important for Riordan. They say his overwhelming defeat in the GOP primary last year was at least partly the result of staff disarray fostered by the candidate.

Already, some party strategists have expressed worries that history was repeating itself.

“Spring training has not been a pretty sight,” said one Republican strategist, referring to initial signs of blurry lines of authority on the nascent Riordan campaign team.

Led by strategist George Gorton, the Schwarzenegger advisors are largely the same group that guided former Gov. Pete Wilson to a string of victories in the 1980s and ‘90s. They prepared for months to run a campaign that would have cast Schwarzenegger as an outsider poised to shake up the state Capitol. Riordan is likely to adopt that stance as well.

Candidates face an Aug. 9 deadline to get their names on the ballot. People close to Schwarzenegger say he is all but sure to stay out of the race. But the “Terminator” star has not announced whether he would run and is unlikely to do so before next week, Gorton said. Schwarzenegger will announce his intentions in an appearance Wednesday on the “Tonight Show,” his spokesman Sean Walsh said Thursday.

Gorton confirmed that he might go to work as Riordan’s top strategist, but said the deal was “not set.”

Noelia Rodriguez, press secretary to First Lady Laura Bush and a former top Riordan aide at City Hall, would be the ex-mayor’s No. 1 person on the campaign, he said.

Over the last two weeks, Riordan has sought campaign advice from Clint Reilly of San Francisco, a former Democratic strategist who ran Riordan’s first Los Angeles mayoral campaign in 1993. In a worrisome sign to GOP strategists who see the recall as their party’s path back to power in the statehouse, Riordan’s wife, Nancy Daly Riordan, a Democratic fund-raiser, has pushed for Reilly to play a role in the campaign, they said.

But Reilly, who led Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s successful campaign to survive a recall election as mayor of San Francisco in 1983, said: “I won’t be coming out of retirement for the Dick Riordan for Governor campaign.”

Polls have found Riordan and Schwarzenegger are the most popular Republicans among potential contenders in the recall race. Both are considered moderates. Both are also well known and wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns.

Among the other Democrats Riordan has called on for advice in recent days is Bill Wardlaw, an old friend and political advisor who helped run his two successful campaigns for mayor and became a powerful player at City Hall under Riordan.

The two men were close but had a protracted falling out, mostly over their selection of different candidates in the 2001 mayoral race. Riordan backed Steve Soboroff, the developer and parks commissioner, while Wardlaw backed the eventual winner, James K. Hahn.

In their recent conversation, Riordan asked Wardlaw whether he would be willing to head a Riordan for Governor campaign, but Wardlaw declined, according to those familiar with the conversation.

Wardlaw would say only: “I had a very good conversation with Dick Riordan but, unfortunately, due to business commitments, I could not get involved.”

According to sources, Wardlaw strongly advised Riordan to hire Gorton and the rest of Schwarzenegger’s campaign team as soon as possible to begin drafting a disciplined and singular message about reforming state government.

Wardlaw also told Riordan that political pros attributed troubles in his last run for governor partly to interference in day-to-day decisions by his wife and others who had not run campaigns, the sources said.

Asked to respond to those assertions, Wardlaw repeated his initial statement.

Republican consultant Dan Schnur, who led Riordan’s 2002 gubernatorial exploratory committee, said: “If Dick is going to get into this race, he needs to find one person in whom he’s willing to place his trust. It could be Noelia Rodriguez. It could be George Gorton. It could be Clint Reilly. But the one thing that he had in his campaigns for mayor that he did not have in the governor’s race last year was an individual to provide the direction and the discipline that a successful campaign needs.”

Apart from Gorton, it was not immediately clear which members of the Schwarzenegger campaign team might join a Riordan campaign. The team includes media consultant Don Sipple, pollster Dick Dresner, press spokesman Sean Walsh and strategists Joe Shumate and Bob White.

Meanwhile, the list of potential candidates vying to replace Davis grew Thursday as Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) pulled papers to get on the ballot and announced that he might run. He said he would campaign against providing social services to illegal immigrants.

“No issue is having a greater effect on California,” said Gallegly, a former Simi Valley mayor serving his ninth term in Congress.

Gallegly conceded that he is little known in most of the state. He said he hopes to be able to raise $6 million for a campaign, which is less than half of the amount that strategists say a candidate is likely to need to compete statewide.

“There’s no question that I don’t have the name ID in Northern California” that some candidates have ... “or for that matter to the south of us either,” he said Thursday at the Ventura County elections office.

Times staff writers Matea Gold and Daryl Kelley contributed to this report.