Schwarzenegger Wades Into a Crowd at ‘Surf City’
Making his first campaign appearance outside Los Angeles, Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Orange County on Friday for a quiet lunch with small-business owners but found himself caught in a crush of hundreds of fans who forced the shutdown of Main Street in Huntington Beach.
In the town that describes itself as “Surf City,” the actor-turned-politician basked in the adoration of nearly 1,000 onlookers who chanted his name, cheered his few pronouncements and strained to get snapshots over a phalanx of TV cameras.
“He sounds honest and good to me,” Johnny Kissel, a 36-year-old surfer and bartender, said as the candidate’s parade passed nearby. “He is talking about kids and doing things to really help us.... I don’t usually vote, but you can bet I will this time.”
The 2 1/2-hour campaign turn came as several leading Republicans said they expected within weeks to begin calling for other GOP candidates to get out of the race in order to strengthen Schwarzenegger’s standing.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, poised near the top of recent opinion polls, is clearly benefiting from being the only prominent Democrat on the ballot to replace Gov. Gray Davis, should he be recalled.
A number of Republican politicians said Friday that they expect laggards on the GOP side to drop out in coming weeks and throw their support to Schwarzenegger.
“People have got to overcome their ego now and look at reality if [Republicans] are going to accomplish anything,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), who helped organize Friday’s tour. State Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said he would be one of several GOP leaders to encourage such a consolidation.
“I would expect to be one of a number of Republican leaders who would have conversations with the second-tier candidates” and suggest that they leave for the good of the state, Brulte said.
Several in the Huntington Beach crowd expressed the same sentiment Friday.
“I hope we can have some unity so we can take the governorship,” said Chris Tibbets, a retiree.
If Schwarzenegger’s day near the beach was any indication, his candidacy already has a strong foothold among the bikini and flip-flop set. A group largely dressed in bathing suits, sandals and sun hats swelled so large that police were forced to close the main drag leading to the Huntington Beach Pier.
The recall election ballot will be in two parts, with voters first choosing whether Davis should be removed from office and then picking from a list of 135 replacement candidates.
Only a few onlookers said they needed to know more about the movie idol before giving their support in the Oct. 7 election.
“I think he has invigorated the populace,” said Michael Licht of Irvine, who was back-to-school shopping with daughter Erika, 10, when he happened on the campaign mob. “If it takes a guy like Arnold to turn it around, I’m all for it. But first I’d like to hear a little more about some immigration reform, and some workers’ comp reform and some more specifics.”
By the time Schwarzenegger arrived for his lone public event Friday, the beach and shopping crowd had joined the media and was spilling off sidewalks and into the roadway at Olive and Main streets.
The actor sprang from his SUV, grinning broadly as the crowd began to chant “Arnold, Arnold, Arnold!” Cell phones emerged from purses to transport “I saw the Terminator!” messages. Fans debated whether the actor looked bigger, or smaller, than they expected.
After shaking hands with about 15 small-business men and women gathered beside umbrellas at the Inka Grill, Schwarzenegger asked them to pull their chairs close. Camera crews and the public strained behind a police tape, as the onetime bodybuilder heard complaints mostly about skyrocketing workers’ compensation costs.
Pedro Aranda, president of a local metal stamping company that employees about 150, told the candidate that his workers’ comp costs have jumped threefold in just three years. Schwarzenegger expressed sympathy, although he did not offer specifics.
“He was right on line with the opinions of the people who were there,” Gerrard Connolly, general manager for the metal stamping company, said of the candidate. “He seemed very intelligent and well-spoken ... and genuine in what he was saying.”
The meeting concluded and Schwarzenegger pushed his way through the sidewalk crowd on a two-block walk toward the pier. Suntanned teens tried out their Austrian accents on each other and giggled. Girls climbed on their boyfriends’ shoulders to get a better view.
Some businesses along the strip saw trade drop sharply as their doors were blocked by star-watchers. But freelance entrepreneurs were happy. A sales rep signed up Arnold-watchers for health club memberships, two young women hawked samples of vitamin-fortified water, and a peddler sold out 100 “Terminator for Governor” T-shirts in just minutes.
Dozens of political reporters had waited for 2 1/2 hours hoping to shout a question or two at Schwarzenegger. In the end they had to settle for a two-minute statement, with the candidate briefly mentioning his immigrant past and saying he would “turn around this mess that has been committed in Sacramento.”
The crowd roared and surged toward Schwarzenegger as he ducked back into his black GMC Yukon.
Augie Dunning bounded out of the choppy surf to catch part of the spectacle.
“California needs a celebrity as governor,” he said. “It’s who we are.”
Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers Kenneth Reich and Ashley Powers.