When Sen. John McCain came to California in February, he and Arnold Schwarzenegger made a joint appearance before television cameras to discuss low-carbon fuel. When Rudy Giuliani came out west earlier this month, he and the governor appeared in public together to discuss ways to reduce gang violence.
But last week, when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came to Sacramento, Schwarzenegger sat in his office preparing for a press conference while Romney met GOP members of the Legislature upstairs in Sen. Dick Ackerman’s office.
Both camps insist the failure to get the two together was nothing more than a scheduling conflict, even though the two men were in the same building at the same time.
“The governor wants to talk to all of the [Republican candidates] running for president,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. “Gov. Romney’s office called and requested a meeting, but he called on relatively short notice and their schedules just didn’t work out.
Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei echoed that “their schedules didn’t permit them to meet” during Romney’s three-day swing through the state. The two spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon, while Romney was still in California. Pompei says the two agreed to meet the next time Romney is in Sacramento.
Romney will return to California next week, but will be appearing in Los Angeles, and has not scheduled a meeting with Schwarzenegger, according to his campaign staff.
Is Mitt Romney running away from Schwarzenegger while running to the right? Is Schwarzenegger playing favorites in the presidential field? Or was last week’s ships-in-the-night occurrence just a simple case of two busy men failing to connect?
Scheduling conflicts do occur, says Dan Schnur, who served as communications director for John McCain’s 2000 campaign but is not working for any candidate seeking the White House in 2008. But, he says, “the bigger priority something is, the easier it is to overcome those conflicts.”
Romney has been running away from his more moderate record as governor of Democrat-heavy Massachusetts, and seeking support from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. So, says Schnur, Schwarzenegger’s endorsement may not be as pivotal to Romney as it is to Giuliani or McCain, who both have support among party moderates.
“The two of them have positioned themselves in entirely different corners of the Republican Party,” says Schnur of Romney and Schwarzenegger. “Romney is likely the least post-partisan of the top-tier candidates.”
In fact, one of the governor’s most outspoken Republican critics, Mike Schroeder, has announced his support of the former Massachusetts governor.
McLear says Schwarzenegger has had a phone conversation with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and welcomes the ear of any of the GOP presidential hopefuls.
“The governor wants to talk to all of the candidates about issues that affect California,” he says. “He wants to talk about health care reform, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions – the things that are important to California.”
But one California Republican said there is little to be gained by Romney seeking the Schwarzenegger endorsement. “They don’t see him as critical,” the adviser said. “There’s no real benefit to the Schwarzenegger endorsement in terms of grass roots. There’s no political organization that you inherit.”
Romney’s three-day trip to the Golden State was a whirlwind fundraising and endorsement-gathering trip. While in California, Romney released a list of finance chairmen for his campaign, a list that included former Assembly Republican Leader Scott Baugh, who is now chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.
“Gov. Romney is a turnaround specialist,” said Baugh in explaining his support of Romney. “He has great skills in turning around large, complicated messy situations, and I think we have several of those facing our country today.”
Ackerman said about 20 members of the Legislature came to hear Romney’s pitch for support to Republican lawmakers. And while Ackerman says he has not yet made up his mind about who to back, he said Romney “made a very good presentation, and I think he will be a great candidate.”