Burbank, Calif. — “I invited Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak to us, but never heard back,” Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly (CRA), told members of the state’s oldest conservative activist group when they assembled at the Ronald Reagan Library for a luncheon last week At the two-day CRA convention. that followed at the Burbank Hilton, there was virtually no argument that, no matter how much the media and state GOP establishment insisted that Schwarzenegger was the only Republican with a chance of winning California’s special October 7 recall election, the conservative activists of the CRA would not support him. “I really don’t even like Schwarzenegger,” said convention chairman Peggy Mew of Los Angeles County. “I mean, what do we really know about him? He’s pro-abortion, for gay adoption and gun control, and said he was ‘ashamed’ of his party’s role in the Clinton impeachment. No, I could never vote for him.” For years, the CRA’s endorsement in contested Republican primaries has been considered the conservative seal-of-approval in California(see page 17. ). In 1964, the CRA endorsement of Sen. Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign was considered key to his crucial primary victory in the state. In 1966, the CRA endorsed then-actor Ronald Reagan over San Francisco Mayor George Christopher for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Last year, it helped conservative businessman Bill Simon win the gubernatorial nomination over liberal former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Nonetheless, it was really no surprise that Schwarzenegger, who supported Riordan for governor last year, did not show up at the Burbank Hilton in response to Spence’s invitation. Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock, the two other major Republicans in the recall election, did address the CRA convention, however. Both are conservatives. But this time, the 47-year-old McClintock captured the group’s endorsement on a voice vote. Simon’s deputy campaign manager Steve Frank downplayed the significance of the endorsement. “Tom has been active in CRA for 20 years,” he said, “and Bill has been active only since he got into politics and started running for governor two years ago.” Simon disappointed conservatives last year with what many thought was an unfocused campaign that ended up losing narrowly to the hugely unpopular Davis by 45% to 42%. This year, Simon is back with a new political team, including veteran conservative consultants Wayne Johnson and Tim Clark and communications director K. B. Forbes, who was with the 1996 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan and the 2000 presidential campaign of Steve Forbes (no relation). McClintock, one of the most respected conservatives in the state legislature, is running on a platform focusing on three specific issues he vows to deal with on his first day in office: rescinding Davis’ tripling of the state car tax by executive order, voiding $42 billion in overpriced state electricity contracts, and calling for a special legislative session to slash worker’s compensation costs by two-thirds and reverse the flow of jobs to other states. (“And then I’ll go to lunch,” McClintock joked.) To skeptics who say that someone who is strongly pro-life will have difficulty winning in California, McClintock campaign operative John Stoos told HUMAN EVENTS: “Tom had a 100% pro-life voting record and won re-election to his senate seat in 2000 by double-digits, while Al Gore was winning the district by 19%. And when Tom ran for controller last year, he ran 103,000 votes ahead of Bill Simon and lost in the end by less than 1% of the vote.” But some of McClintock’s admirers concede the oft-heard criticism that the cerebral Ventura County “issues man” isn’t adept at cultivating potential donors and has a record of being a poor fund-raiser. Stoos, however, disagrees and responded to this criticism by pointing out that McClintock already has raised more than $500,000 and has strong name recognition from his close-fought race for state controller. Many delegates at the CRA convention worried that McClintock and Simon would split the conservative vote in the state, making it impossible for either to win. Also, despite McClintock’s endorsement from the CRA, and strong support among conservative activists, there are other elements in the state party who, although they are untroubled by Schwarzenegger’s positions on social issues and his still largely unexplained views on other issues, nonetheless back him because they believe he is the only Republican who can win in the recall election. At the Los Angeles County offices in Norwalk last Saturday morning a large crowd of local pols, autographseekers and reporters gathered behind police barricades in sweltering heat in hopes of seeing Schwarzenegger file the papers to run in the recall. Finally, a Mercedes SUV pulled up and, amidst wild cheering, Schwarzenegger stepped out and, accompanied by wife Maria Shriver, entered the building. Fifteen minutes later, he emerged and, after reporters shooed fellow candidate and columnist Arianna Huffington away from the podium, he officially announced that he was a candidate, declined to answer any questions, climbed back into his Mercedes and departed. Alan Smith, executive director of Los Angeles County Republican Party, was there in the crowd. Smith describes himself as a “pro-life, pro-gun, conservative.” Yet while proclaiming neutrality among the three Republican candidates, he pointed out that “since Arnold announced last week, the number of people calling or e-mailing our headquarters to be involved in Republican politics has gone from, at most, five a day to fifty a day. His announcement alone means a resurgence we haven’t seen in a long time.” Jennifer Jacobs, fund-raiser for the San Diego County Republican Party, made similar observations. The actor’s candidacy has made it easier to persuade people to contribute to the party, she said. “Our phones are ringing off the hook,” she said, “with people who want to get involved [with a Schwarzenegger campaign].” Other Republican Party operatives also expressed their willingness to overlook Schwarzenegger’s liberal views on abortion, gun control and gay adoption, and his statement that he will “never forgive” the Republican Party for impeaching President Clinton. Over breakfast in Toluca Lake on Saturday, actress Cheryl Felicia Rhoads—who is strongly pro-life, and who volunteered in the unsuccessful 2000 re-election campaign of Rep. Jim Rogan (R.-Calif.), the impeachment manager—exclaimed upon learning I was headed for Schwarzenegger’s filing: “I want to volunteer in his campaign headquarters!” When I asked about differences on social issues and the candidate’s put-down of the impeachment, which her friend Rogan had championed, Rhoads shook her head and said, “We need a Republican governor out here.” (Later, Rhoads contacted me to say that the news that Schwarzenegger had voted for Proposition 187, which would have cut off most state social services to illegal aliens, was good “because that issue is important to most Californians.”) Conservatives searching for reasons to vote for Schwarzenegger—or dismissing key issues that could be seen as reasons not to vote against him—may well become the most important voters in what is inarguably the political contest of the year, and a defining moment for the Republican Party.
Conservative California activists have come out in support of State Sen. Tom McClintock, splitting with GOP leaders over Schwarzenegger.