Gov. Keeps Distance From Bush Campaign

Times Staff Writer

As President Bush spends more time on the campaign trail, there is one prominent and popular Republican virtually silent in his support for the president: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The presidential campaign season typically finds governors rushing to the side of their party’s president, cozying up to the glamour of motorcades, wealthy donors and rapt supporters. But with his own movie-star allure and significant political disputes with Bush, Schwarzenegger has kept the president notably at arm’s length.

The governor has not traveled to battleground states to campaign for Bush. Neither has he forcefully attacked Bush’s likely Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Even though he is an honorary co-chairman of Bush’s reelection campaign, Schwarzenegger rarely comments on the president’s performance.


Aides expect the California governor will campaign for Bush, but they say he is focusing now on the state budget and other government business. Their relationship nevertheless is colored by key differences on public policy -- from gay rights to abortion, offshore oil leases to military base closures -- and by Schwarzenegger’s own popularity on the world stage.

“Schwarzenegger is a global figure and, globally, who is seen more positively right now? Definitively, it’s Schwarzenegger,” said K.B. Forbes, a Republican political consultant, comparing the two men.

It is also clear that Schwarzenegger sees himself as a different type of Republican than Bush. Asked recently whether Bush is a good political fit for California, the governor replied elliptically: “If George Bush was living in California, as he did in Texas, he would understand Californians very well, so he knows what he needs to do and what kind of philosophy he needs to have to win.”

In March, when Bush visited Los Angeles and Bakersfield for campaign events, Schwarzenegger was a no-show, except for attending a private fundraiser. After devastating wildfires swept Southern California late last fall, Bush met with the governor-elect but then toured the damaged area alone, leaving Schwarzenegger and then-Gov. Gray Davis behind.

More recently, Schwarzenegger traveled to the Middle East, met with the Israeli prime minister, dined with the king of Jordan and greeted cheering U.S. troops in Germany. He was acting like a president himself, and cable news interrupted its coverage of Bush’s campaign to cover Schwarzenegger.

By contrast, other Republican governors have been helpful to Bush, including New York’s George Pataki, who campaigned for the president in New Hampshire, and Colorado’s Bill Owens, who campaigned in Iowa.

Republican governors in Arkansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas all have done news interviews, issued statements of support or participated in Bush campaign events, aides said.

“All Arnold would have to do is say the president is doing a fantastic job and he would swing a whole bunch of voters,” said Michael Blitz, author of “Why Arnold Matters,” a book about Schwarzenegger’s cultural influence. “The fact that he hasn’t done that is fascinating.”

Rob Stutzman, the governor’s communications director, said that Bush and Schwarzenegger are on friendly terms, but that the governor “is not primarily a partisan person. He is head of the party and will campaign for Republicans, but he’s not the political animal that we’ve seen with other politicians.”

Bush supporters in California say they are not worried about the governor’s commitment to the president. The two get along well in person, they add, and Schwarzenegger is expected to play an important role at the Republican National Convention.

“He’s doing the right thing. That is his job,” Gerald L. Parsky, Bush’s campaign chairman in California, said of Schwarzenegger. “His job is to be the chief advocate for California. But it doesn’t mean he won’t be fully supportive of the president and our campaign. They are not inconsistent.”

Lyn Nofziger, a longtime Republican consultant who advised Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, said: “If you come into the first of September and Arnold is sitting on his hands, then I would make something of it. But this is early. I don’t think there are any problems.”

But given Bush’s political weakness in California, it is an open question whether his campaign will make a serious effort in the state. Some Republican strategists believe Schwarzenegger’s active involvement would be critical to Bush’s having a chance of winning here.

“Schwarzenegger may not be able to carry the state for the president, but he gives Bush entree with voters who may not vote for him,” said Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant who worked for the 2000 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“Schwarzenegger and his team just put together the first winning Republican campaign in California in a decade, but you don’t see any evidence of their involvement in the president’s reelection,” Schnur said.

Several things help explain the apparent distance. Although Bush and Schwarzenegger are among the nation’s most prominent Republican elected officials, they differ on many issues. The governor is more politically moderate, representing a uniquely Californian amalgam of philosophies. Bush gathers his strength from conservative and religious Republicans.

The same polls that show Schwarzenegger to be the most popular politician in California also find a broad swath of the state’s voters alienated from Bush.

“Their relationship will always be fraught with the tensions that mirror the Republican Party,” said Elizabeth Garrett, director of the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics. “Bush is going to be profoundly uncomfortable with Schwarzenegger’s positions on social issues.”

For now, actively campaigning for Bush would complicate Schwarzenegger’s own needs, aides said: The governor doesn’t want to engage in partisan politics while negotiating with Democrats on the state budget and important legislation.

State Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who is close to the Bush administration and Schwarzenegger, said that when he saw Bush and the governor together in October, “they seemed to be having a pretty good time.”

But he said Schwarzenegger also knows how to negotiate and get what he wants. “Having been a party to a number of negotiations with him and the Democrats, he doesn’t expose his hand to anybody,” he said.

Schwarzenegger has said publicly that he would like as much as $1 billion from Washington to compensate costs related to illegal immigration. His administration is negotiating behind the scenes with the Pentagon and Bush to avoid further cuts to military bases in California. Administration officials also want federal permission to make Medi-Cal more flexible.

And Schwarzenegger would like to see the federal government prevent further offshore drilling by buying back 36 leases located off California that are held by oil companies. Bush made a similar deal in Florida in an apparent effort to help his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, on the eve of his reelection bid last year.

In his requests, Schwarzenegger has sent a blunt message to the president: If you want the support of Californians in November, then pay up. Californians would “very much appreciate” federal help, he recently told The Times, and “that will weigh heavily on election day.”

Personal factors may come into play as well.

Although Schwarzenegger regularly attends fundraisers for state Republican candidates, he has been reserved about those he publicly embraces. Schwarzenegger made three endorsements during the March Republican primary -- Assemblyman John Campbell of Irvine, U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach. All three candidates won by large margins.

In each case, Schwarzenegger seemed to have made his decision out of loyalty. All three had been early supporters of his campaign for governor. “In the end, there is a personal relationship and a trust and, if that is there, that is what he relies on,” Campbell said.

Bush, on the other hand, remained neutral during California’s recall, offering only vague support for Schwarzenegger by saying he would make a “good” governor. Most of the Republican political establishment in California had supported Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger is close to Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush. The senior Bush invited Schwarzenegger to Camp David and appointed him chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, allowing Schwarzenegger to travel the country with the imprimatur of the White House.

When it comes to the current president, however, Schwarzenegger may be closer personally to his likely challenger. They have disparate friends in common. Documentary producer George Butler said Kerry gave Schwarzenegger advice on financing “Pumping Iron,” the 1977 film that launched Schwarzenegger into stardom in America.

Butler, a friend of Kerry, is now producing a documentary, “Tour of Duty,” about the Democratic candidate.

Kerry and Schwarzenegger own vacation lodges in Sun Valley, Idaho. On a visit to Sacramento, Kerry noted his family’s longtime relationship with the Schwarzenegger and Kennedy families. Schwarzenegger regularly gets advice from Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is the uncle of his wife, Maria Shriver.

In Sacramento, Kerry met for a drink with Shriver at the Esquire Grill. He did not meet with the governor, however, and Shriver later said she would not campaign for Kerry even though she is a Democrat.

When pressed on television’s “Today” show recently, Shriver said she would not be appearing with Bush, either.