Arnold Woos State GOP Convention

Los Angeles, Calif.-“Someone ought to get to Tom McClintock soon and ask him if he wants to be responsible for making [Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz] Bustamante the next governor October 7. And they ought to take a stick to him if that’s what it takes to get him to withdraw!”

Those rather strong words came from one of the most respected voices among California conservatives, Ray Briem, who for more than three decades has been one of the highest-rated radio talk show hosts in Los Angeles. Over dinner in Malibu on the eve of California’s Republican State Convention last week, Briem articulated a sentiment repeatedly echoed at the GOP conclave: McClintock, an across-the-board conservative, should end his bid for governor and defer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose views on most issues are either vague or decidedly non-conservative. He must do so, the argument went, to stop far-left Bustamante becoming governor.

Asked how he felt about encouraging the exit of a candidate who agrees with him on virtually every issue (notably curbing illegal immigration) in favor of one who doesn’t, the radio legend said, “Schwarzenegger will be with us 80% of the time.” Many Californians find this a debatable proposition, as the action star’s pro-abortion and pro-gun control positions, and his refusal to sign a no-taxes pledge could constitute more than 20% disagreement with Briem and most conservatives.

The calls for McClintock to leave the race were enhanced by the latest Los Angeles Times poll, which showed Bustamante at 30%, Schwarzenegger at 25%, and McClintock at 18%.

Schwarzenegger’s camp vigorously worked the largely conservative 2,500 GOP conventioneers at the Los Angeles Marriott. Eight former Republican state chairmen, almost all strong conservatives, declared for Arnold. Notably included were former chairmen John McGraw and John Herrington, both of whom had said last year that they would not vote for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan if he became the gubernatorial nominee because he was too liberal. Riordan is now supporting Schwarzenegger, with whom he agrees on virtually all issues. At a caucus of the state’s 58 Republican county chairmen, only two dissented from the view that McClintock should defer to Schwarzenegger.

Under the aegis of former state chairman and conservative stalwart Shawn Steel, Schwarzenegger campaign quarterback George Gorton held a closed-door session with prominent conservatives to discuss ways of wooing McClintock supporters. Noting that Schwarzenegger was committed to making needed cuts in the state budget and rolling back government, Gorton recalled how “when Pete Wilson was governor, we’d be happy to get three TV cameras to cover him. Arnold gets about 35 cameras. Imagine the publicity if he was governor and went into a legislator’s district and said, ‘He’s stopping me from making the changes I promised!'” Nobel Laureate Economist Milton Friedman, Schwarzenegger’s team pointed out, had endorsed Schwarzenegger and “he fully agrees with Arnold’s refusal to rule out a tax increase under any circumstances.”

Amid cheers of “Arnold! Arnold!” at the convention lunch, Schwarzenegger sounded a strongly conservative message. “I’m a Republican because Milton Friedman is right and Karl Marx is wrong,” Schwarzenegger said. “I’m a conservative because I believe in a balanced budget, not in budget deficits.” He drew his loudest ovation, however, when he vowed that on his first day as governor, he would take the measure signed by Davis permitting driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants “and I will terminate it. I’ll go to the legislature for repeal, and if they refuse to act swiftly, I will take my case to the people and we will overturn it ourselves.”

McClintock also got a hero’s welcome when he addressed the convention’s Saturday dinner and sounded his conservative message of lowering taxes and fees as well as making major budget cuts to alleviate the state’s $38-billion deficit.

But many attendees were not convinced. A number of McClintock supporters handed out a pro-McClintock brochure from conservative former state legislator Gil Ferguson entitled “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right” that made the case for McClintock. Catching up with McClintock at a “Recall Davis” rally in Long Beach, I asked about his campaign’s finances and the candidate noted that he is now raising “$40,000 a day, about 80% from the Internet.” Pointing out that he has already raised over $1.4 million-more than he brought in for his nearly successful bid for state controller last year-the Ventura County lawmaker said he is in the race to stay.

But he is sending placatory signals. McClintock told HUMAN EVENTS he would not run attack ads against Schwarzenegger because “my campaign is about the future of California.” In addition, other conservatives who are sympathetic to McClintock made it clear they could easily switch to Schwarzenegger if it appears in the end that the race is only between him and Bustamante.

California Young Republican Chairman Charles Hess, a strong conservative, acknowledged that his group had endorsed McClintock but held open the possibility he would vote for Schwarzenegger. “If we don’t win the governorship now,” he said, “we’ll drop to a third party.”

A telling and oft-heard comment came from KCAL-Channel 9 (Los Angeles) helicopter pilot Derek Bell, a registered Republican, who said, “I agree with McClintock 100%.” When I asked him at a weekend barbecue in Pasadena if he would vote for McClintock, he replied, “Come see me three days before the election.”