After Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was running for governor, Tony Gilchrease, Republican chairman in rural Nevada County, noticed a surge of interest in politics among his younger neighbors.
So he called the actor’s campaign office and asked aides to send Schwarzenegger buttons and bumper stickers. He planned to hand them out to newly registered voters at last weekend’s county fair.
At the fair, the young voters came -- Republicans registered 350 new voters, a local record -- but the Schwarzenegger material never did.
“I never heard back. I didn’t get a phone call,” Gilchrease said. “I don’t know why.”
Two weeks into the campaign, curiosity about Schwarzenegger in core GOP circles is slowly yielding to frustration -- even among potential supporters -- with a movie star who has thus far been unwilling to stray far from Hollywood.
Around the state, county Republican chairpersons and other party activists say Schwarzenegger has been slow to reach out to potential supporters.
“I think politics is about relationships, and in this state there are a lot of relationships that need to be built,” said Ron Zehring, Republican chairman in San Diego County.
“He hasn’t yet had the opportunity to build those relationships,” he said, “and I think that explains part of what you’re hearing from the grass roots.”
Kevin Jeffries, chairman of Riverside County’s Republican Central Committee, pointed out that both of Schwarzenegger’s main Republican rivals, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) and businessman Bill Simon Jr., have made appearances in that county and pledged to return.
“What I understand is that Schwarzenegger’s people recognize the importance of the Inland Empire and will come,” Jeffries said. “But I get the feeling right now that they are still figuring things out.”
In Kings County, Republican Chairwoman Prudence Eiland said that her e-mail is full of missives from McClintock and Simon but that she has yet to hear a word from the Schwarzenegger camp.
“He has not had a presence,” she said, “and I wish he would, because he’s the one who is polling well.”
To date, Schwarzenegger’s four public appearances in California have all been safely within the confines of Los Angeles County, where he lives and works. Two of those involved filing papers for governor.
He is holding another event today, a meeting of his economic council -- at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.
Schwarzenegger has yet to speak to Republican groups or campaign outside coastal Southern California -- a strange omission in a state where Republicans often find warmer receptions in the interior. Instead, the actor has clung mostly to familiar turf, spending most nights at home on the Westside.
That decision may prove to be a safe, smart strategy for a campaign that has so far been built largely on celebrity and media images. It may also reflect the early awkwardness of a fledgling campaign headed by a novice politician, who gave little warning even to his own staff that he would run.
But the candidate’s tactics have been carefully noted in the state’s Republican strongholds. Last weekend, eyebrows were raised when Schwarzenegger skipped the annual Republican barbecue and picnic in Placer County -- even though McClintock and Simon attended.
Jane Parsons, chairwoman of the Fresno County Republican Central Committee, said: “It’s not like we’re planning for an election in November of 2004. He shouldn’t keep us waiting too long.”
Sean Walsh, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, said the candidate has been focused on putting together a team of economic advisors. The campaign has yet to hire enough people to deal with the deluge of requests for the candidate.
In time, however, “our campaign is going to be a tsunami” felt across California, Walsh said. “Anybody who thinks they are not going to see Arnold Schwarzenegger out ... campaigning is living in a state of delusion.”
But activists warn that Simon and McClintock may be gaining critical support by responding faster to requests for appearances.
Republicans say the danger of waiting to travel in a short, intense campaign is that even activists are forced to depend on the media for an impression of the candidate. Republican activists said they have noted coverage of Schwarzenegger’s addition of Rob Lowe -- a former star of the TV series “The West Wing,” which is about a Democratic administration -- and billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s implicit criticism of Proposition 13.
“I think [Schwarzenegger is] a little liberal, just judging from the people he’s surrounding himself with,” said John Olmstead, chairman of the Madera County Republican Central Committee.
The actor’s close-to-the-vest strategy extends to his relations with local and state media, whose questions he has yet to address. He has even played a cat-and-mouse game with his schedule. His last two public appearances -- in New York on Aug. 11 and in the San Fernando Valley last Thursday -- did not appear on his campaign’s public schedule.
Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at USC, said Schwarzenegger’s campaign is walking a fine line. “It’s in their interest to seem to be working on their own internal time clock,” he said. “But it’s not in their interest to seem to be contemptuous of voters. And that’s the knife’s edge they’re walking.”
But many Republicans say they understand, for now, the campaign’s slow pace.
“They are still trying to organize their campaign on short notice -- it’s a good idea they’re not throwing themselves into places and then having to backtrack from mistakes,” said Leslie Cornejo, Republican chairwoman in Ventura County. “I do think that once they hit the ground running, things will look different.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign released its first commercial, a 60-second spot titled “Initial” that was expected to begin airing on statewide television today. The campaign has purchased more than $1 million worth of air time for it in the coming week.
Producer: Sipple Strategic Communications.
The script: Schwarzenegger: “This historic election has come about because there is a tremendous disconnect between the people of California and the leaders of California. We, the people, are doing our job: working hard, raising our families and paying taxes. But the politicians are not doing their job. We can do better than that. After all, we are California -- always at the forefront of innovation. Our farm products feed the world, and our technology is second to none. I am running for governor to lead a movement for change and give California back its future. I stand for fiscally responsible government, rebuilding California’s economic engine, putting the needs of children first and reforming our political system so that the public interest comes before special interests. I want to be the people’s governor. I will work honestly, without fear or favor, to do what is right for all Californians.” Announcer: “Join Arnold and let’s bring California back.”
Pictures: Schwarzenegger, dressed in a blue blazer and white open-necked dress shirt, speaks directly to the camera as he strolls in front of an elegant home and then stands in a formally appointed office as the camera closes in on his face.
Accuracy: Speaking in broad generalities, Schwarzenegger says nothing that can be easily challenged.
Analysis: The ad seems designed to introduce Schwarzenegger, the gubernatorial candidate, to voters who may know him only as an action movie star. Speaking against a background of swelling, patriotic-sounding theme music, Schwarzenegger makes assertions that can be expected to resonate with most voters -- we’re doing our job; it’s the politicians who have messed things up -- and present him as a reasonable, reassuring, forward-thinking figure. As has been the case throughout the early stages of his campaign, Schwarzenegger offers no specific proposals and takes no real stands.
The ad can be viewed at www.latimes.com