Bringing in the political muscle

Reston is a Times staff writer.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, known here for his annual bodybuilding competition, the Arnold Classic, lent his celebrity Friday to fellow Republican John McCain, predicting a comeback for the Arizona senator in this must-win state.

It was night of elaborate stagecraft as the former movie star and the presidential candidate rolled into the Nationwide Arena on McCain’s bus and spoke in front of a set made to look like a red barn with wooden crates of apples piled strategically for the cameras.

“You all look terrific. You look all pumped; you look ready to elect John McCain president of the United States,” said Schwarzenegger, who offered a new twist on McCain’s military service and the 5 1/2 years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison after being shot down in the war.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I only play an action hero in my movies, but John McCain is a real action hero.”


McCain, who likes to joke that he and Schwarzenegger have “many similar attributes,” watched with a wide grin what amounted to an opening comedy act, before giving a noticeably pumped-up rendition of his stump speech, vowing to win Ohio and the White House.

“Arnold said it best,” McCain said. “ ‘The Mac is back.’ ”

It was the second time Schwarzenegger had sought to rescue a presidential candidate in the arena. The governor, whose political clout in Ohio comes from his bodybuilding days in the state, where he won the Mr. World title, also performed a star turn four years ago, almost to the day, for President Bush.

That event, however, filled the arena. On Friday night, it was half-full. A heavy blue curtain cordoned off part of the arena, and many rows in the upper decks were empty.


This appearance was perhaps an easier one for Schwarzenegger. In 2004, he risked alienating independents and Democrats who were the key to his political ambitions in California.

During that rally, he avoided attacking Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and did not clap, as the audience did, when Bush alluded to issues they did not agree on -- including a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

There was no evidence of such strain between McCain and Schwarzenegger, though they differ on a number of topics, including offshore drilling and gay marriage. Schwarzenegger opposes a proposition on the California ballot that would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, while McCain is in favor of it.

Sliding comfortably into the McCain campaign talking points, Schwarzenegger questioned Barack Obama’s readiness to be president.


He also took issue with Obama’s plan to roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the top brackets, as well as the Democrat’s statement to Joe the Plumber that he believes “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

“I left Europe four decades ago because socialism has killed opportunities there,” Schwarzenegger said. ". . . Now Sen. Obama says he wants to pursue the same ‘spread the wealth’ ideas that Europe had decades ago.”

He targeted his sharpest zinger at Obama’s lavish spending on advertising.

“If Sen. Obama had taken all of that money he has spent on TV ads, he could have bailed out the banks, paid off everyone’s mortgages and saved taxpayers a ton of money,” Schwarzenegger said. “I think there will be a backlash against all of this lopsided spending. I think Americans on Tuesday will say our democracy is not for sale.”