It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger calling on the cell phone. The Weekly tells the action superstar, “I’m driving by the state Capitol now and it’s 108 degrees. Is that too hot for you?” “No,” the Terminator shoots back, laughing at the double meaning. “It was much hotter in Baghdad, 130 degrees. Our guys had to wear long-sleeved shirts with their Kevlar vests, but I got away with short sleeves and the Kevlar,” referring to his Fourth of July visit to U.S. combat troops in Iraq. With speculation — spurred by an unusual phone call to a Sacramento Bee columnist from a proverbial unnamed adviser — mounting that the Republicans’ strongest candidate might not run in the recall election after all, Schwarzenegger wants to talk politics. He clearly relishes a run against unpopular Governor Gray Davis. But there are complications, centering in part around his family, which he still thinks might be overcome.
It’s total recall, rise of the machinations. Gray Davis re-shuffles his campaign team after bad stumbles, bringing back longtime consigliere Garry South for a role that is less than meets the eye (not the architect of his strategies but “the guy who talks to Gray”) even as the $19 billion of the budget deficit he grudgingly acknowledged to the Weekly would be deferred to the future turns out to be $22 billion. One-time conservative diva turned progressive columnist Arianna Huffington hires former Tom Hayden and Sandinista campaign manager Bill Zimmerman to direct her own gubernatorial bid, gets Green Party candidate Peter Camejo to agree to campaign in concert with her, and deals with ex-husband Michael Huffington, the GOP’s near victor over Senator Dianne Feinstein in ’94 before revealing his homosexuality, who soapily announces to Davis’ delight that he, too, wants to run for governor.
Conservative Republicans Darrell Issa and Tom McClintock muscle their way into last weekend’s Capitol recall rally, which had been stealthily intended as a re-launching pad for Bill Simon. Davis schedules meetings with two of the state’s richest unions, the teachers and the prison guards, for July 22, the day Schwarzenegger returns to L.A. Loaded with Schwarzenegger supporters, the unions keep their distance from Davis as veteran Democratic power broker Willie Brown calls a meeting of top consultants to discuss what to do about the recall. All compelling machinations, but the biggest centers on the former Mr. Universe.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger left L.A. three weeks ago to open his hit movie in foreign markets, he sounded like a candidate for governor. That continued as he made his way around Europe, opening the film at premieres, appearing with his friend Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France, giving his blessing to a T3 race car at the British Grand Prix.
In discussions with California political associates on July 18, the superrich superstar said that the race was probably on. Schwarzenegger’s veteran campaign team, former top aides to Pete Wilson in his four winning campaigns for governor and senator, shifted into gear. Important campaign meetings were scheduled for July 22.
Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s wife, TV journalist Maria Shriver — niece of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy — made ready to fly to London for the July 21 premiere of T3. Shriver was said to have deep reservations about her husband’s candidacy. After the mob scene at Leicester Square, the couple returned home that night on the jet, arriving at 4 a.m. Jet-lagged, the actor canceled the day’s campaign meetings, leading some to believe, in what would become a yo-yoing of expectations, that the campaign was suddenly off. But the following day, with Arnold and Maria meeting privately with former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan and wife Nancy Daly, their close friends and allies, it seemed back on. Said one close associate, “This is a done deal.” Not quite.
Schwarzenegger, who had been pointing with his trademark meticulous preparation to a prospective race in 2006, signaled that family considerations were a major concern. The couple’s four children would be older in 2006, the two oldest in high school and more interested in friends their own age, the two youngest well into the primary grades. There was more. In addition to concerns about the promised gutter tabloid politics prying into their personal lives (driven by Democrats who forget their recent impassioned defense of Bill Clinton), Shriver — whose uncles Jack and Bobby were assassinated — is worried about physical security in an age of terror if one of the world’s most famous movie stars takes the helm of the nation’s largest state in a wild free-for-all election.
And the extended family is a concern. “The Kennedys don’t want Arnold to run this time,” says a longtime Kennedy family friend. “It’s one thing for him to take the governorship in a regular election and another to force out the sitting governor of what was thought to be the nation’s most important Democratic stronghold. They are very good at making their displeasure known, as her dad found out. Besides, Maria thought she married a movie star, not a politician.” Sargent Shriver, JFK’s Peace Corps director, became George McGovern’s 1972 vice-presidential mate to his in-laws’ deep disapproval.
By last weekend the signs from Chez Schwarzenshriver were again equivocal. Even as campaign prep continued, there was talk of a press conference to “pass the baton” to Riordan. But outside friends, including
former Governor Wilson, weighed in on the side of running. The event disappeared.
Schwarzenegger usually spends years preparing for a major move like this, but running in the recall appeals to his sense of drama and his sense of alarm about California. “The thinking is all behind the curve, the governor fosters negativity and confusion,” he says.
The Weekly reached Garry South at his wife’s birthday party in a crowded restaurant with his in-laws from China. A talented old friend who is one of the principal purveyors of the ever-less-charming smart-ass style in California politics, South couldn’t talk much over the din but scoffed at Schwarzenegger’s involvement as “movie promotion.”
No need to remind South about his frantic faxing two years ago of a thinly sourced magazine article about Schwarzenegger’s private life. At the time, the action star had mused about running before fulfilling his contractual obligation to make T3, an act that hurt Davis in Hollywood. Another Davis adviser was more candid: “Of course, Arnold could win.”
“I have a wild life,” notes Schwarzenegger. “All the politics now on top of the usual business meetings and all the movie stuff I’ve gone through. But it can work out.”
Perhaps not this time.