By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustration by Juan Alvarado|
The strongest challenger was definitely not going to compete. It was obvious. Nearly everyone knew it. So the other players made their preparations accordingly. Then, just before the start of the contest, Arnold Schwarzenegger stunned nearly everyone by announcing that he was in after all.
Sounds like the 2003 California governor’s race. It also happened in the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest. Schwarzenegger had been retired from competitive bodybuilding for five years before coming back to win his seventh Mr. Olympia title, a record that still stands. (The canny Schwarzenegger always emphasizes his five Mr. Universe titles now but the most prestigious world championship is Mr. Olympia, a rather, well, Aryan-sounding name.) Scheduled to be a commentator at the event, Schwarzenegger surprised the field by showing up in Australia as a competitor instead.
Now, 23 years later, it’s Monday, two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger shocked the media and political worlds by announcing his candidacy for governor on The Tonight Show on Wednesday, August 6, which happens to be Hiroshima Day. I call him up to check in and see if he has any nuclear events in mind. He quickly comes on the line and we discuss the lay of the land. Unlike every other political writer in California, in fact the entire country, I know that Schwarzenegger really does want to run for governor, is trying to make it work, and have reported that. I have more than an inkling that he will not wait until 2006.
He is still weighing a few factors, Schwarzenegger says. Will Senator Dianne Feinstein run, he wonders? I tell him again that I think not, a wild free-for-all campaign is simply not her cup of tea. She is 70 years old, doesn’t enjoy campaigning, does enjoy a well-ordered life, and is a settled-in fixture in the chic salons and chat shows of Washington, D.C.
“You should definitely come down to the show,” says Schwarzenegger. “It will be fun.” I tell him I’m not sure I can make it; I have long-standing plans the next day in San Francisco with my friend Viktoria. After a pause — I know well that people very seldom tell Arnold Schwarzenegger they aren’t sure they can fit him into their schedules — he says, “No, you should come down. It will be great.”
I switch off the phone, thinking that if the stars are in alignment — that is, if his reluctant wife, TV journalist Maria Shriver, has come around to his way of thinking, and if Feinstein follows her pattern of behavior — California may be close to having a bodybuilding Austrian-American governor. Those, however, are large stars with big gravitational fields of their own. As reported here last week, Shriver had joined her husband in a session with former Governor Pete Wilson on California’s crisis of governance, which could have been read as growing support or as a shrewd spouse seemingly taking herself out of the way of a move that will not be made. And many powerful Democrats, panicking about the prospects of Governor Gray Davis in the recall, are pressuring Feinstein to run.
Schwarzenegger’s political consultants, all top-level veterans of Wilson’s political campaigns, are convinced that he is out. (I have a long history with the Wilsonites, mostly antagonistic, having won a state journalism award as political columnist in large part for work criticizing Wilson, then working to defeat Wilson as senior adviser to the Democratic Party and Kathleen Brown, writing his political obituary in a scathing Los Angeles Times op-ed piece when his presidential campaign ended, and more recently attacking him repeatedly for championing the electric-power deregulation scheme. Despite all that, we still talk.) Team Arnold/Wilson is mostly quite depressed. And mostly quite insistent he will not run. Some remain convinced Feinstein will run. The L.A. Times and other outlets have reported they are moving over to work for Schwarzenegger’s friend and ally, Dick Riordan. But that is wrong. Media consultant Don Sipple and communications strategist Sean Walsh will not. Campaign manager George Gorton might, but sounds pessimistic.
The hard truth is there is no Riordan operation. Riordan had detailed his former aide Noelia Rodriguez, now first lady Laura Bush’s press secretary, to set up a campaign team. Told by the White House she would have to resign to work for Riordan, she returned to Washington with the task undone. Everything is up in the air, remarkably so for a politician everyone else in the media and politics believes is running just days from the filing deadline. Since being knocked out in the 2002 Republican primary by Davis’ unprecedented intervention of $10 million in negative ads, Riordan, now out of office, flirted endlessly with the recall movement, traveled to Cuba and Latin America in search of business opportunities, and announced plans to start a weekly L.A. newspaper, which seems illusory. Says one longtime adviser cited in the press: “I have no idea what he is doing.”
Wednesday morning rolls around and, sure enough, Feinstein announces she is out. As I walk into NBC’s Burbank studio that afternoon, Schwarzenegger consultant Sean Walsh asks if I think he will run. (He and Gorton had been dead certain Tuesday night that Schwarzenegger was out, with Gorton in particular wracked by missed opportunities. Sipple, intrigued by the Mr. Olympia story, which he later recounts to ‰ Schwarzenegger as the action superstar pulls his candidate filing papers in a wild media event, was not.) Assured that Walsh is not kidding, I give him a thumbs-down, then slowly raise the thumb to a horizontal position before moving it in front of my body as I walk away.