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Can Schwarzenegger Talk Issues or Just Trademark Lines?

Aired August 8, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: He's a proven publicity machine. But can Arnold Schwarzenegger talk issues as well as his trademark lines?


ANNOUNCER: Oscar? No. California governor? Maybe. But has Schwarzenegger already won a coveted prize?

The heat is on President Bush. Find out how he's faring under the broiling Texas sun and in the summertime glare of public opinion.

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

As an actor, and now as a candidate for California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger obviously knows how to razzle-dazzle them. He appeared today at another made-for-TV event, the opening of athletic games for inner city youngsters in Los Angeles.

But the actor-turned-politician is now facing growing questions about whether he has the right stuff to run the nation's most populous state.


SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm having a great time with this campaign. I have so much energy. I have so much fire. I will be going from home to home to talk to the people in California. I will be going from school to school, knock on doors, meet with business leaders and all that. I will be campaigning fiercely until October 7.


KING: Some fellow Republicans appear set to try to give Schwarzenegger a run for his money. A source tells CNN that former Olympics president and ex-baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth is -- quote -- "very, very likely to run." A statement is expected later today. And former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon plans to file his campaign papers tomorrow, even though, according to sources, the Schwarzenegger camp is pressing Simon not to run like -- quote -- "a ton of bricks."

Meantime, Governor Gray Davis and other Democrats are stepping up their efforts to portray Schwarzenegger as a self-promoting political lightweight. Schwarzenegger insists that's not the case, but in a series of interviews, he so far is being less than specific on a number of issues.


KING (voice-over): He drives a gas-guzzling SUV, but says it would be wrong to jump to conclude conclusions.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And I will fight for the environment. Nothing to worry about that.

KING: That was Thursday afternoon. Friday morning, more of the same. Vague on many of the issues that could shape the coming campaign. Known as a supporter of gay rights, he was asked about gay marriage.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't want to get into that right now because as we go on with our campaign, we will be addressing all of those issues.

KING: And on money matters, like the state's budget crisis?

SCHWARZENEGGER: The highest workman's compensation in California and also the disastrous energy crisis that we had -- what do you think -- who is paying for that?

KING: Schwarzenegger says his campaigns for after-school programs should leave no doubt about his spending priorities.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It is very important to now that the children should have the first call to our state treasury. We have to take care of our kids.

KING: Supporters call him a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights and public schools.

But he also is described as a fiscal conservative. That may come with the territory. He is worth hundreds of millions. Schwarzenegger wants to kill the tripling of car taxes that made Governor Davis even more unpopular. But no word so far, anyway, on whether he is for new tax cuts or increases.

Also in the dark, Schwarzenegger specifics on crime, drugs, agriculture, suburban sprawl, water rights.

It's a big state.

He is accustomed to having his name above the title, and very much hoping Californians are more interested in confidence and leadership than policy details. SCHWARZENEGGER: The people are very smart. They know who is sincere, who is honest, who is a strong character, and who can go up there and change things. And they know that I could be the man.


KING: President bush has been watching all this closely, but trying to keep his distance from the California free-for-all. But today, the president did weigh in for the first time on Schwarzenegger's campaign.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is with the president in Crawford, Texas. Hello, stranger.


Well, the president had some visitors at his ranch today, members of his defense team and the vice president. He came out to talk about issues regarding Iraq, but he was asked the political question on everybody's mind -- what does he think about Arnold Schwarzenegger?


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never arm wrestle Arnold Schwarzenegger. No matter how hard I try, I'll never lift as much weight as he does.

I think it's interesting. I'm confident the citizens of California will sort all this out for the good of the citizenry -- Dick.

You know, as I say, I'm interested in the process. It's fascinating to see who's in and who's out, and yes, I think he'd be a good governor.


BASH: There you heard it. He thinks that Schwarzenegger would be a good governor. His aides say not to take that as any kind of formal endorsement. Bush's aides say just to take it just for what it was.

And John, the president will be in California next week for two days, and right now there are no plans for him to campaign with Arnold Schwarzenegger -- John.

KING: But Dana, publicly, this stepback we're just watching, we're just curious attitude -- Karl Rove and the Bush team have spent two and a half years to get California in play for 2004. They have to care and they have to be much more involved privately than we see publicly.

BASH: Well, yes, they certainly do care, as you well know, John. And what they're trying to figure out is exactly what all this means. As far as I can tell just talking to a number of Bush strategists and Republican strategists outside the immediate Bush world, right now they think it's just too complex to try to get in there, to try to clear the field for Arnold at this point.

First of all, he is still a little bit unknown. But also because the situation is so unruly, so many people on the ballot. And in addition, they're not exactly sure if having a Republican governor will actually help the president in 2004. There's still part of the Republican strategic world, so to speak, that thinks that Gray Davis or another Democrat at the top of the ticket, for the governor's race, as it were, in 2004, will help President Bush because the Democrats will be to blame and not a Republican governor and even if that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. So sources say at this point, there is really no clear political calculus. They're not exactly sure how to turn and what to do, so they're just going to let it play out and see what happens in the coming weeks -- John.

KING: And Dana, one of the most important issues to the president in August in Crawford is what he calls the 100-degree club. Some developments on that front, we understand.

BASH: Almost some developments, yes.

The president likes to jog. It's been well over 100 degrees here everyday. He's jogged almost everyday. He said he didn't jog today. But he is getting some additions to his 100-degree club, some members of the Secret Service get T-shirts to boast about the fact that they do jog with him when it's 100 degrees.

And as a side note, when walking away from reporters today, the vice president turned to reporters and sort of said in a sly way, "I am not a member of the 100-degree club." It was pretty funny, John.

KING: Dana Bash, thank you very much in Crawford, Texas. The president -- the president, I mean, did tell -- did say the vice president, though, was quite the fly fisher.

We'll have much more ahead on the recall ahead, including an interview with former Congressman Michael Huffington who's one of the few Republicans who passed on this race, while his ex-wife did get in.

Now to the presidential race, in today's "Campaign News Daily." Five anti-Bush groups are forming a new political action committee aimed at defeating Bush in next year's election. Leaders of the pack, "America Coming Together," reportedly have received initial contributions of nearly $22 million to fund their fight against Mr. Bush. They plan to focus on voter education and registration in key battleground states.

A new poll shows President Bush's ratings are sagging a bit, while Democrat voters appear frustrated with their party. In a hypothetical matchup, President Bush leads an unnamed Democrat by five points in the new Pew poll. He had a 10-point lead last month.

Democrats, though, have their own troubles. Just 38 percent of Democrats now say their party is excellent or good at standing up for traditional issues. That's down from 44 percent in May.

In the Democratic presidential race, there's more evidence of Howard Dean's momentum. The former Vermont governor has moved into a tie for second place in our new poll. Joe Lieberman still has a slight lead with 18 percent support among registered Democrats nationwide. But Governor Dean is hot on his heels, tied with Dick Gephardt at 15 percent. John Kerry is the only other candidates with double digits. John Kerry at 12 percent.

Let's bring in now our political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." He joins us from New York.

Ron, I want to start with this new poll. There's some interesting numbers in this.

Number one, the president is back in the human sphere, if you will, in terms of his approval rating. Let's look at the Pew numbers. His approval rating now at 53 percent. That's not so bad, but it's down from 65 percent in May and down from 70 percent in March, and perhaps it's because of the economy.

If you look at the numbers here, voters are now saying it is more important for the president to focus on the economy -- 57 percent say the economy is more of a priority; 27 percent say it's more important that he focus on terrorism.

Trouble for the president?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, yes. I mean, I think if you look at those numbers, the 53 percent approval rating for a president is a number that lets the other side, the candidates on the other side, feel like they're not wasting their time when they get out of bed in the morning, as opposed to 60 or 65 percent.

Look, John, if you blink your eyes, this poll today looks an awful lot like the polling before September 11, 2001. I think the last CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll right before the attacks had Bush at a 51 percent approval with an enormous gap between the way Republicans and Democrats received him. That's almost exactly what we see again today, roughly a 60-point gap between the Republican approval rating at 90 percent and Democrats at only 30 percent.

What that says to me is that when we get away from kind of the unifying events like the war on terrorism, like the attacks and like the war in Iraq, we drift back to the equilibrium we saw 2000, which is a very polarized country that is pretty closely evenly decided between the parties.

KING: And when you see the number that many people think the economy is more important right now, we obviously start to think back to his father's campaign, back in 1992. A quick comparison, in the Pew poll, choice for president in 2004 asked in latest poll, Bush 43 percent, an unnamed Democrat, 38 percent.

Let's flashback to 1991. His father, George Herbert Walker Bush, 41 percent, the Democrat at 44 percent. So the two President Bushes, if you will, running about equal. The Republicans must, A, worry about that number, and B, try to figure out how to get this back on to their turf, no? BROWNSTEIN: Well, right. I think everyone in both parties agrees that this will not be 1992 again, that national security is going to be more important in the wake of the September 11 attacks than national security was in the wake of the first war in Iraq, which didn't really seem to have any ongoing relevance in the life of American people.

Clearly the ability to be commander-in-chief is relevant in a ongoing way to voters than it probably wasn't in 1992. Now having said that, that doesn't mean that it obliterates the economy or health care or other domestic issues where Bush is looking at a much more problematic landscape. He does continue to face the risk of becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover to have fewer jobs in the economy at the end of his full four-year term than at the beginning.

And that is something that obviously has Republicans nervous. They put a lot of their chips on tax cuts. This poll today finds -- continues to finds, like other polls, that the tax cut only has lukewarm support among the public. The voters said they would give it up for universal health care by more than 2 to 1.

So there are some vulnerabilities. But you shouldn't underestimate the degree to which the continuing strength on national security is an asset for Bush and is a threshold those Democrats are going to have to cross.

KING: Ron Brownstein of "The L.A. Times," joining us today from New York, thank you very much.

And now some events of note from our "Presidential Campaign Calendar." Dick Gephardt will formally get the endorsement of the Teamsters union vote tomorrow, with Union President James Hoffa at his side in Detroit.

Bob Graham is continuing his family vacation in the political hotspot of Iowa. On today's itinerary, a visit to the National Balloon Classic.

And Al Sharpton will raise campaign cash with a little help from a famous friend. Director Spike Lee is hosting the fundraiser at his home at Martha's Vineyard tonight.

His ex-wife's in, but he's staying out. Next we'll talk to multimillionaire Michael Huffington on why he's steering away in the race to replace Gray Davis.

Also ahead:


MAYOR WILLIE BROWN (D), SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF: Nothing in my imagination could have conjured up this. You wouldn't write this as part of "West Wing" or any other form of -- you wouldn't even do it with "Bulworth." This just can't be happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: No, it's not a dream or even a movie, but can Arnold Schwarzenegger score in the political arena?

And an actor running for governor of California -- wait, haven't we been down that path before? Stay with us for more on the political theater from out west.


KING: One Republican who is staying out of the crowded race for governor of California is former Congressman Michael Huffington. His ex-wife, Arianna, is running as an independent.

Michael Huffington joins us live now from Los Angeles. Sir, thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Let me begin with this question. You are backing Arnold Schwarzenegger, not what some might call the established Republican candidate, Bill Simon or Peter Ueberroth getting in. What makes you think Schwarzenegger can win this race?

MICHAEL HUFFINGTON, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I've known Arnold since my campaign in 1994. And I saw him about three months ago, and I told him that if he decided to run, that I would support him.

I have a great deal of respect for Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth, but frankly, you can see the charism that Arnold has. And this state has so many problems right now. They really are looking for a leader who can motivate people and work with Democrats, Republicans and independents and that's the main reason I'm backing Arnold Schwarzenegger.

KING: Sir, many look as this and they call it chaos, some call it a circus. A great deal of candidates in the race, obviously trying to replace a sitting governor. One subplot of all of this seems to be tension between yourself and your ex-wife.

As you decided this week not to run, you issued a statement in which you said in part this, quote, "This week my children told me they did not want their parents to run in this election -- either one of us. In consideration of my two young daughters, I have determined that entering the governor's race would not be in the best interest of my children."

Forgive me, but you seem to be saying there, sir, that your ex- wife is not acting in the best interests of her children when she decides to run.

HUFFINGTON: Well, I'm going to be very frank with you. Our children didn't want either one of us to run. And frankly, they'd love their mother to reconsider and not run. The day she announced, on Wednesday, the children moved out of her house and came over to mine.

I think, frankly, the biggest problems we have in America today are that parents are not being as responsible as they should to their children. So yes, I did make that statement because it was the truth. And our kids were hurt. And if I had run, it would have been a complete disaster.

And so I decided put my children first and not to enter the race.

KING: We tried to get comment from your ex-wife. I should make that clear. And she said she would decline to comment on your statement. But you're saying your daughters told her specifically told her, Please, Mom, do not run?

HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely, and our oldest daughter has been devastated by it.

But I can tell you something. I've told both of them to try and enjoy their summer. I hope their mother will reconsider, but if she doesn't, it will be only two months, it will be over soon enough. And in the end, we're a family. And I mean, I love Arianna as the mother of my kids, but it is a problem for them, and, of course, she knows that.

KING: Do you see any long-term damage in this? Step back a little bit from the day to day jousting, if you will. Many -- some Republicans here in Washington, many Republicans say they worry about what they say they call the overreaching, if you will, that we had during the Bill Clinton impeachment saga. That Republicans are so eager to get Gray Davis that they may do themselves some damage here by launching this recall instead of just waiting for another election.

HUFFINGTON: Well, the recall's here. There's no going back. And what we do need somebody who's going to be get elected to be governor if the recall passes, which I suspect it will.

And of all the candidates that are out there, I can't see anyone better than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mean, there are plenty of fine people, there's no question. So there are going to be good choices. But Arnold Schwarzenegger clearly is a man who motivates people, gets people excited. And you're going to see more people going to the polls, I think, than anyone would have expected prior to his announcement.

KING: Sir, I want to ask you one other question, off the topic of the recall. You are a former Congressman, you also are openly gay. The president has said in recent days that he believes there should be a federal law, perhaps even a Constitutional amendment, outlawing gay marriage. Do you agree with the president on that, sir?

HUFFINGTON: Let me correct the record, for once. The article is wrong. I'm actually bisexual. I love women. I was madly in love with Arianna when I was married to her. But, yes, I like men also. '

But let me say also that marriage is a term that I think is basically reserved for the church. I'm absolutely for civil unions. There should be no discrimination against any human being in this country on any topic whatsoever, ever.

But when it comes to marriage, that's a term that's used that frankly ought to probably stick with churches, and that's their decision whether they want to marry people of the same sex or not.

KING: Former Congressman Michael Huffington, thank you so much for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you so much, John.

KING: Thank you.

Howard Dean makes the covers of "TIME" and "Newsweek" and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- well, you know what he did by now. So who captured "The Political Play of the Week"? We'll reveal the winner in just a moment.


KING: Unless you've been out of the country or maybe in hibernation, it probably doesn't take too much guessing this week to figure out the top political move of the week.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us from California with his pick -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's take a look. Here in Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger is known as a disciplined and methodical man. He doesn't do anything without careful planning. And a lot of careful planning appears to have gone into this week's "Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Here's the Hollywood premiere of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

CROWD: Ar-nold! Ar-nold! Ar-nold!

SCHNEIDER: Here's Arnold Schwarzenegger making a political appearance.


SCHNEIDER: See the difference? No? Neither do we.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement of his candidacy for governor was pure show business. It was certainly a surprise to the press and the political establishment.

BROWN: Nothing in my imagination could have conjured up this. You wouldn't write this as part of "West Wing" or any other form of -- you wouldn't even do it with "Bulworth." This just can't be happening.

SCHNEIDER: Why did Schwarzenegger choose to make his announcement on "The Tonight Show"?

A.D. SCOTT, "NEW YORK TIMES" FILM CRITIC: And he doesn't look out of place with Jay Leno, whereas if he were, you know, addressing factory workers or a rally or at a suburban mall, it might, you know, be a little bit strange.

SCHWARZENEGGER: This is why he needs to be recalled. And this is why I'm going to run for governor of the state of California.

SCHNEIDER: Great ratings. The second most watched "Tonight Show" of the year. How many press conferences do that well?

Politicians need sound bytes. Schwarzenegger understands that.

SCOTT: If you think of his movie roles, he's associated with very simple and memorable catchphrases, you know, like, "Hasta la vista"; "I'll be back"; "Consider this a divorce."

SCHNEIDER: Here's the political version.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Do your job for the people and do it well or otherwise you are "Hasta la vista, baby." I can promise you that when I go to Sacramento, I will pump up Sacramento.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Arnold, thank you, buddy.

SCHNEIDER: Is it politics, or is it show business? The voters may not care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All around great guy, and he's very brilliant in a lot of his movies, and I think he's going to take that and bring that into some real-world situations that we're going through right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the Terminator can do it, terminate -- Terminator, go for it.

SCHNEIDER: Can you turn box office appeal into voter appeal? We'll find out soon. But for now, it was the perfect premiere, a made-in-Hollywood "Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Two weeks ago, Congressman Darrell Issa got "The Play of the Week" for engineering the California recall with more than $1 million of his own money. This week, Issa looked like the loser of the week as he tearfully announced he wouldn't run. As they say in politics, "Hasta la vista, baby" -- John.

KING: Bill Schneider in Los Angeles. More plot twists to come, I suspect.

SCHNEIDER: I think so.

KING: Take care, Bill.

A few decades ago, another actor went from Hollywood to the California governor's mansion. Can Arnold Schwarzenegger measure up to the Great Communicator? Bruce Morton takes a look when we come back.


KING: Before we wrap up today's INSIDE POLITICS, our Bruce Morton helps us recall another actor-turned-California-governor and how Arnold Schwarzenegger stacks up against him.


RONALD REAGAN, ACTOR: From now on, baseball's a hobby.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the movies, Ronald Reagan could be, well, gentle. The joke when he first ran for governor was, "No, no, Jimmy Stewart for governor, Ronald Reagan for best friend."

REAGAN: Are you in love with him and not with me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess I am, George.

MORTON: Arnold is, well, different.

Of course, Reagan succeeded as governor, as president, but gentle. When did Arnold rescue a chimp?

REAGAN: Come on, Bonzo, I'll get you home. Hang on, Bonzo.

MORTON: Guns went off in Reagan movies, but the Terminator works in a whole different league.


MORTON: Reagan played, among other things, a football player who, dying, has one last wish for his team.

REAGAN: Win just one for the Gipper.

MORTON: And he repeated it to his successor as president at the 1988 GOP Convention.

REAGAN: George, just one personal request: go out there and win one for the Gipper.

MORTON: Arnold, well, you can imagine him charming the legislature when they're arguing over some tough piece of legislation.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm not programmed to follow your orders.

MORTON: It's wrong to judge by movie roles, of course. Reagan did play a lot of people like himself, kind, optimistic, shining, city-on-a-hill kind of guys. Arnold may be that kind of guy too, we just don't know it from his movies.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I am a machine.

MORTON: Hasta la vista, viewers.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Have a great weekend.


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