With his speech endorsing President Bush a hit among Republicans at their national convention, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may take his message on the road this fall to a key electoral state: Ohio.
The governor’s chief of staff, Patricia Clarey, said late Tuesday that she had discussed the possibility of an appearance there with Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove and campaign manager Ken Mehlman. She said a decision on an appearance was not final and would depend on the governor’s schedule and the president’s political needs at the time.
“It’s definitely on the table,” Clarey said.
The move would be a departure from Schwarzenegger’s reluctance until now to campaign for Bush outside California. It would put Schwarzenegger in a state in which he has long-standing business and personal ties -- specifically to Columbus, a political bellwether. No Republican has won the presidency without Ohio.
For nearly 25 years in Columbus, Schwarzenegger has owned and sponsored a bodybuilding tournament, the Arnold Classic, which in recent years has grown into a massive convention of the fitness industry. He is also a partner in a local mall, operates a branch of his after-school charity there and keeps the tank he drove in the Austrian army at a military museum in a Columbus suburb.
Ohio Republicans attending the convention said they had strongly urged a Schwarzenegger appearance.
“Because of his activities and his ties to the area -- and with what we see now of him politically -- Arnold Schwarzenegger could make an extraordinary difference for the president in Ohio and in Franklin County,” where Columbus is, said Jim Petro, Ohio’s attorney general. “Columbus loves superheroes.”
Ohio’s interest reflected a clamor for Schwarzenegger among Republicans at the convention after his Tuesday night speech.
“The themes he presented, the description of what it means to be a Republican -- I don’t think I’ve ever seen it said better,” Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) said.
Some delegates suggested that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves the presidency for natural-born citizens, be amended to permit Schwarzenegger to run for the office.
“You know, I hadn’t really thought about him and his life before, but the presentation he gave was just mesmerizing,” said Jean Cody, a Tennessee delegate who runs a consignment shop in the town of Cookville, 80 miles from Nashville. “I don’t see any reason why a person like him shouldn’t have a chance to be president.”
Political analysts say any constitutional amendment is a longshot. In brief remarks Wednesday outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Battery Park, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that he received some compliments that mentioned the presidency, but that “I never deal with hypotheticals.”
Asked whether he would like to run, the governor said that “I would like to fix California.”
Schwarzenegger said he was pleased with the general reaction, which he said reflected his strong support from Bush and his own way with a crowd.
“I know myself from bodybuilding days and from show business that I respond very well to crowds,” he said. “I would do a 700-pound lift in the gym. But then I would go into competition two days later and I would do 725 because I have people out there.”
He also said he would like to bring the Republican convention in 2008 to California. Anaheim is bidding for both major-party conventions.
With the exception of a few comments outside the hotel, Schwarzenegger and his aides celebrated privately while keeping a low profile. A strategist for the governor said there was no reason to make any news that would take attention from the speech.
Schwarzenegger held a brief event at a public school in Harlem but did not take questions from reporters. “I love days like this, because we are celebrating,” he said.
The celebration actually began late Tuesday night and continued into the wee hours of Wednesday morning at an entertainment industry-sponsored event at the Boat House in Central Park.
After a few hours’ sleep, a bleary-eyed Schwarzenegger took what amounted to a victory lap of Manhattan.
Schwarzenegger attended a closed-door reception sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce at the Ritz Carlton. The event was held to thank corporations -- including drug, oil and entertainment companies that were lobbying him on various matters -- which along with the California Republican Party helped sponsor the costs of the trip. He also made some time for a little shopping on Madison Avenue.
California Democrats and their national counterparts had opposite reactions to the speech. In California, Democrats said Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of Bush, who is unpopular in the state, gave the lie to the governor’s claim that he was a centrist.
“I was surprised by his level of partisan fervor,” said state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who is expected to run for governor in 2006. Angelides urged Californians to take note of the “raw meat for the right wing” in the governor’s speech. “He attacked the United Nations. He tried to equate Democrats with socialists.”
Nationally, Democrats took pains to showcase the differences between the popular Schwarzenegger and the president. They noted that the governor spoke much more often about himself than Bush.
Outside the Schwarzenegger event in Harlem, Democrats and teachers union members distributed fliers contrasting the governor’s support for after-school programs with the Bush administration’s attempt to cut federal funding for the After-School Corp., which sponsored after-school activities at the school.