Shelf life of Arnold-mania


Schwarzenegger: How long will the hoopla last for movie star turned governor-elect once he's in office? Some say a few months

some say forever.

November 08, 2003|By Shawn Hubler | Shawn Hubler,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - And now for some hardball, Mr. Governor-elect Schwarzenegger.

The people demand to know: What's up with that tan? Also, will you be sporting a tie or going open-collar with this administration? What'll your ride be, motorcade-wise? Shouldn't you be taller? Will your Kennedy-pedigree wife be transforming this Delta burg into Camelot-by-the-river? Will there be groping? OK, then how about an autograph?

It's Arnold-mania, baby, and it's sweeping the nation, from California's statehouse to Washington. Last week, when Schwarzenegger visited Congress, Cannes-style mobs trailed him through Capitol hallways. Nationally known lawmakers leaped and jockeyed for pictures - not with him but of him. People with advanced degrees laughed insanely every time he said "Collectinator."

It was a repeat of his earlier meet-and-greet with state leaders, except even giddier, and with wildfires besieging the lower half of California. But trailing the excitement is the natural follow-up movie-star question: How long will Schwarzenegger's new job be upstaged by his old job?

Or, as weary state workers were asking after his last visit to Sacramento, how long can this circus be sustained?

Placing their bets

Experts are placing their bets.

"Forever," predicts Ralph Pipes, whose special-events company has done security for Schwarzenegger's movie premieres and has had extensive experience with manic fans. "Arnold is a great story. Sacramento is gonna look like downtown Hollywood for the next three years."

More like three months, counters Republican political strategist Arnold Steinberg. He believes the state's troubles, from the recent fires to financial disaster, will sober the Capitol, but not before the 100-day honeymoon that is enjoyed by most newly elected politicians, and not before the holidays.

"Six months to a year," estimates one of Steinberg's Democratic counterparts, political consultant Bill Carrick. "The truth is, culturally, there's a huge difference between a place like L.A. and Sacramento. There has been almost a Gomer Pyle-like reaction from the political community in the capital - they seem to be standing around going `Shazam!' They all look a little star-struck, and I think they are."

"As long as he is responsible for making it go on," says veteran public relations man Lee Solters, whose clients have included Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Schwarzenegger, he and others say, has an instinctive grasp of publicity and how it works and can demystify himself - if he wants to.

"When Madonna and Britney Spears kissed and it made a lot of news but they didn't want it to continue, they kept quiet about it and it just died," Solters says. "The headlines about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's wedding stopped as soon as they stopped talking about it."

But, he adds, the question is whether Schwarzenegger the performer can bear to play second banana to Schwarzenegger the state official. During his recent visit to Sacramento, political reporters repeatedly advised the governor-elect's handlers that making him more accessible would supply the demand for pictures and sound bites, thus easing the madness. But that didn't happen.

Instead, Schwarzenegger materialized on the fly, his appearances brief, his remarks more so, his audiences clamoring at every stop for more. Walls of humanity greeted him at every destination. "Just ... trying ... to ... focus," moans Joseph Swabeck, a round-faced, 11-year-old sweating as he stands on tiptoe in a vain attempt to maneuver his camera through a mass of television reporters.

State employees trying to work have to detour around rope barricades and past blocked stairwells. Elevators have to be locked down every time Schwarzenegger enters the Capitol, a security precaution that leaves aides and legislators huffing up and down stairs on a morning when his motorcade arrives nearly an hour behind schedule.

And when he does face the public, it is with a star's instincts rather than a politician's. At one point, stopping at Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's office, he touches Bustamante's elbow and expertly turns him in mid-sentence to better face the cameras, which snap wildly as Schwarzenegger poses and the lieutenant governor looks confusedly at the big, manicured hand on his jacket.

Politicians mobbed by reporters when Schwarzenegger is around find themselves as lonely as Maytag repairmen when the governor-elect moves to his next venue, the press stampeding behind him.

"This could go on and on and on," Solters says. "Schwarzenegger is a showman, whether he wants to be or not. Sometimes you can't help it - you are what you are."

Political strategists believe, however, that the crowd scenes will end when Schwarzenegger and the Legislature begin wading into the state's red ink, a situation that is unlikely to be eased by the cost of the recent fires.

Bursting the bubble

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