Recall campaign heats up in Calif.

Schwarzenegger focuses on issues despite criticism over treatment of women

Some expect race to tighten

October 04, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Declaring that "the people know my character," Arnold Schwarzenegger fought to rise above criticism yesterday and stuck resolutely to his campaign themes, while his wife, Maria Shriver, staunchly defended him against accusations that he had made unwanted sexual advances toward women.

In a sweep through California's heartland, the actor seeking to become governor in California's extraordinary recall election Tuesday drew large, adoring crowds.

"I will stay focused," he pledged on the second day of his bus tour. "I will stay focused because the fight continues."

On Thursday, with polls showing the Republican surging, his campaign was shaken by accounts by six women who told the Los Angeles Times that he had made unsolicited sexual advances. He also faced questions about a book proposal, obtained by The New York Times and ABC News, that quoted him as saying in 1975 that he had admired Hitler.

He apologized for having "behaved badly sometimes" toward women and said he despised "anything that Hitler stands for."

An array of polls this week showed strong support for recalling Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger emerged as the most popular of 135 candidates to replace the embattled Democratic governor. The recall ballot first asks voters to decide whether Davis should be ousted. It then asks them to choose a replacement candidate.

With just days to go before the election, political strategists said the new accusations could narrow the race, but they doubted that there was enough time to change its dynamics.

"Its likely that this narrows the margin on the recall," said Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant who ran former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth's campaign until he dropped out. "The question is by how much. Voters might not like what they are hearing about Arnold, but they really hated Gray for a long time."

Gale Kaufman, a Democratic political consultant who often works for organized labor in Sacramento, said she expected some of Schwarzenegger's supporters to become undecided but did not expect support for the recall of Davis to diminish.

Schwarzenegger's aides said that their overnight polls showed no erosion in support.

Still, in a last push for Davis, anti-Schwarzenegger women's groups, joined by one-time recall candidate Arianna Huffington, held protest rallies around the state. Democrats joined them in raising sharp questions about Schwarzenegger's character.

"I don't see how anyone can admire Adolf Hitler," Davis told ABC's Good Morning America. "Any decent American has to be offended by that phrase."

In Washington, where the Democratic National Committee was meeting, party members also assailed the actor.

"You know, after reading in the paper this morning about the pill popping, the skirt chasing, the Hitler praising, it would be very tempting to point out the Republicans' hypocrisy on values," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. "But would it be right to do? Absolutely."

The Democrat's statements were prompted by the fact that a film producer, George Butler, who chronicled Schwarzenegger's rise to fame as a champion bodybuilder in the 1970s, circulated a book proposal six years ago that quoted the young man expressing admiration for Hitler.

The book proposal presented what it called verbatim excerpts from the bodybuilder made during the filming of Pumping Iron in the 1970s, in which he said he admired Hitler because he "came from being a little man with almost no formal education up to power. And I admire him for being a good public speaker."

Butler said in an interview late Thursday that he had found original transcripts of the interviews and that Schwarzenegger went on to say of Hitler, "I didn't admire him for what he did with it."

Schwarzenegger on Thursday said, "I despise anything that Hitler stands for, anything he has done, hated the Nazism, hated what was done during the Second World War."

Yesterday in an interview, Schwarzenegger was relaxed in his tour bus and dressed in white. He said he was not deterred by the past few days and would drive forward in his campaign.

"Before I went into the race, everyone came to me and said, `Arnold, think about it,'" he said. "`They're going to throw everything at you. That's just the way it works in politics.'"

"This is a discovery for me," he said. "I'm not the smartest guy in the world, no. But I'll learn when I get in there. First is the commitment. Like bodybuilding, first is the commitment."

He also said that he would continue to apologize to women and that he had not realized his advances were unwanted. Six women gave the Los Angeles Times accounts of him grabbing their breasts or putting his hand under their clothes.

"It's too bad nobody came up to me before and sat down and said, `I still feel hurt about what you said,'" he said yesterday. "I could have apologized right then and there. I never got the chance."

On the campaign trail, however, he stuck to his campaign themes about rebuilding California. At a rally in Arcadia, Schwarzenegger spoke of abolishing the recent increase in the vehicle tax and of wistful remembrances of the California of yesteryear.

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