The rancor among Republican candidates for governor intensified Friday as Tom McClintock described rival Arnold Schwarzenegger as a “vacuum cleaner” for corporate campaign donations and accused the actor of breaking a vow to forgo special-interest money.
The rising antagonism comes amid fears by some Republicans that the two will split the party’s vote and ensure a GOP defeat in the gubernatorial recall race.
Beyond the public squabbles, intraparty scuffling continued behind the scenes, as county chairmen from around the state hastily scheduled a meeting next week.
Some McClintock loyalists viewed the gathering as a backdoor attempt to push through a Schwarzenegger endorsement and pressure the Thousand Oaks state senator to quit the race.
At campaign stops in the Inland Empire on Friday, McClintock questioned Schwarzenegger’s integrity and party loyalty, citing the actor’s outspoken remarks against the GOP after the impeachment of President Clinton.
“This is a man who just a few years ago said he was ashamed to be a Republican,” McClintock said during a visit to an Ontario office park. “He has received millions of dollars from special-interest groups after pledging he would not, and he begrudges several Indian tribes a few hundred thousand dollars in support they’ve put behind me. I think that’s just a little hypocritical.”
Schwarzenegger has questioned McClintock’s acceptance of campaign money from Indian tribes that also donate heavily to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the top Democrat in the race.
In San Bernardino, McClintock said that if the tribes wanted to harm Schwarzenegger’s campaign, they could run their own television ads targeting him directly. “Lord knows there is plenty to attack him with,” McClintock said.
Given Schwarzenegger’s vow in the opening days of his campaign to decline special-interest money, he said, the actor “obviously has a short shelf life on his promises.”
“He has now become a vacuum cleaner throughout corporate California,” McClintock said.
The actor’s donors “have major interests before the state Legislature,” he said.
Schwarzenegger has responded to such criticism by saying that his donors -- including developers and others with stakes in state business -- are not special interests. He has refused donations from Indian tribes and unions, saying they negotiate directly with the governor. He also has declined checks from single-issue advocacy groups.
Schwarzenegger had no public events Friday. His spokesman, Sean Walsh, said McClintock had “apparently made numerous promises” to Indian tribes, but he provided no specifics.
“The question is: Are his campaign contributions from Indian interests the payoff for those promises?” Walsh asked.
Walsh said the Indian donations showed McClintock and Bustamante were “opposite sides of the same coin.”
“Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a determination that what he does for Native American tribes will be based on merit, not on promises made for money exchanged,” Walsh said.
Walsh also said the actor was “proud to be a Republican.”
John Stoos, McClintock’s deputy campaign director, responded: “You can tell Mr. Walsh that the only thing Mr. McClintock promised the Indians is to stand by the same principles and commitments that he has held in his 20 years of service in Sacramento.”
As the campaigns traded barbs, the upcoming meeting of Republican county leaders added to the friction.
Party bylaws forbade a candidate endorsement at last weekend’s state GOP gathering in Los Angeles. But there was strong sentiment among some party leaders to back the movie star as the GOP’s best hope of uniting behind a single candidate to replace Gov. Gray Davis, if he is recalled.
Next week’s endorsement session, scheduled for Thursday in Sacramento, was called at the request of 10 members of the California Republican County Chairmen’s Assn. Schwarzenegger met privately with the group at the convention and lobbied its members for support.
A resolution, to be introduced by Riverside County Republican Chairman Kevin Jeffries, says the party must unite behind one candidate.
“Results from historically accurate polling firms should be a guiding factor in determining which candidate remains,” he said. Independent polls show Schwarzenegger trailing Bustamante but running ahead of McClintock.
An endorsement from the chairmen’s group would be unprecedented; normally it avoids stepping into fights between Republican candidates.
Supporters of McClintock and others who objected to the meeting called it a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent party rules and deliver a boost to Schwarzenegger.
“I personally do not believe that the party bosses of the Republican Party should meet behind closed doors, cut some deal to get rid of Tom McClintock and put Arnold Schwarzenegger out there as our candidate,” said Placer County Republican Chairman Ken Campbell. “I believe the voters can choose for themselves.”
In a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Tim Morgan, head of the state GOP Rules Committee, urged the chairmen “to avoid at all costs taking any endorsement action that could alienate” rank-and-file Republicans and hamper President Bush’s reelection efforts next year in California.
Ron Nehring, the GOP chairman in San Diego County and head of the statewide association, insisted there would be a fair and open debate at Thursday’s session, with both candidates standing an equal chance of winning the group’s backing.
“Nobody is going to ram anything by any chairmen,” Nehring said, adding that the session could end with no endorsement.
Times staff writers Hugo Martin and James Rainey contributed to this report.