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Governor Pulls Himself Off the Screen

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked TV stations Friday to remove ads that feature him making a personal appeal to California voters -- an acknowledgment, analysts said, that one of the world’s most recognized figures has become a weak salesman for his own agenda.

An avid pitchman his entire adult life -- selling everything from gym bags to action movies -- Schwarzenegger nevertheless now will rely on “ordinary” supporters to promote his four Nov. 8 ballot initiatives in ads, his campaign said.

The remaining ads do not feature the governor or even mention his name. Instead, they include teachers and others asking people to “change California” and vote for the initiatives he backs.

The two Schwarzenegger ads being removed show him in a casual backyard setting, speaking to the camera. In one, he says: “Help me change Sacramento, so we can rebuild California.”

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Todd Harris, a spokesman for the governor’s campaign, acknowledged that his staff had asked TV stations Friday to pull the direct-appeal ads. He would not comment on whether Schwarzenegger’s face would appear again on the air in the two and a half weeks that remain until voting day.

Harris said the campaign was not pulling the ads because of public opinion about Schwarzenegger. Rather, he said, the campaign spent a lot of effort and money on TV ads featuring the governor, “and now we are putting a ton of [ads] behind educating people about the campaign.”

Harris said the special election campaign is not about fighting union bosses or special interests “or even the governor. It’s a campaign about fixing the system.”

Schwarzenegger has made himself a centerpiece of his initiative campaigns -- even using his “Join Arnold” logo extensively. He has repeatedly said he is a “salesman by nature.” In his 2004 State of the State speech, he said he wanted to sell California: “If I can sell tickets to my movies like ‘Red Sonja’ and ‘Last Action Hero,’ you know I can sell just about anything.”

Removing the ads is an acknowledgment that Schwarzenegger remains unpopular with California voters, as recent polls have shown, and cannot pitch his message alone, political analysts said.

“It means their focus groups and polling are telling them that he is not a compelling source on these topics, and that is linked to his popularity ratings,” said Barbara O’Connor, a political communications professor at Cal State Sacramento.

Elizabeth Garrett, director of the USC/Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics, said the governor is suffering from an effective and aggressive campaign by unions to tear him down, and from his own mistakes.

“He’s now not seen as the same Schwarzenegger who won the recall and was so successful last year,” she said. “He is either seen as a partisan, or insensitive about ordinary people.”

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Harris said Schwarzenegger is not shying way from the public. He will appear Monday for 40 minutes in a live, televised forum in the Bay Area sponsored by a television station and newspaper there. In addition, the campaign is negotiating with other TV stations for similar media events.

Faced with nearly $90 million in spending by the opposition -- mostly government employee unions -- Schwarzenegger’s campaign said it can’t raise enough money to pay for TV ads statewide.

Schwarzenegger has raised almost $40 million for his political endeavors this year, including $10 million in the month after he announced that he was running for reelection.

The governor is running only a limited number of ads on minor cable TV stations in the Bay area, which is dominated by Democrats in most counties. Harris said that was because “we don’t have unlimited resources like the other side does.”

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Of the eight initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot, Schwarzenegger is promoting four.

They would make it harder for teachers to get tenure, curb the use of union dues for political campaigns, install new government spending controls, and prohibit lawmakers from drawing their own legislative districts.

An August poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed voters agreed that he was tackling important issues, but disapproved of his job performance. Only 34% approved.

O’Connor said removing the Schwarzenegger ads “doesn’t mean he can’t recover or that he won’t win a couple of initiatives, but it’s a strategic decision that he is not their best source on this.”

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