Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t run for president, but he has injected himself into the 2008 presidential race. The Republican governor has taken to national airwaves to preach the gospel of “post-partisanship” around the country. But the events of the last week suggest that the governor could also be a convenient political foil for conservatives seeking votes in closed Republican primaries.
Tongues wagged after the governor’s appearance on the Today show Tuesday, when Schwarzenegger was asked about criticism from Rush Limbaugh, who harshly questioned Schwarzenegger’s conservatism. “Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant. I am not his servant,” the governor said. The next day, Schwarzenegger appeared on Limbaugh’s radio program, clearing the air, staying on his “post-partisan” message and diffusing the vitriol from Limbaugh.
Last week, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came to the Capitol. 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.
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.
By contrast, when Sen. John McCain came to California in February, he and 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.
Is 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 is 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.
Fox news analyst Karen Hanretty says that at this stage of the campaign, Romney needs Schwarzenegger more than Schwarzenegger needs Romney.
“Candidates with low name ID who run fourth behind people like Newt [Gingrich], who hasn’t even declared, can’t afford to miss opportunities for earned media in important states like California.”
For those looking for the ever-present Maria angle, there’s fodder there, too. Romney ran a bitter and nasty campaign against Shriver’s uncle, Ted Kennedy, for U.S. Senate in 1994. It should be noted, however, that the man who ran that campaign, Mike Murphy, was brought in by Shriver to run her husband’s 2003 campaign for governor during the recall.
Schwarzenegger has met Romney in the past, and his health-care team looked to Romney’s experience guiding a universal health-care plan through a Democrat-controlled Legislature. But Schwarzenegger does not have the personal rapport with Romney that he has with Giuliani and McCain.
But sources close to Schwarzenegger said that they eventually expect Romney and Schwarzenegger to appear together publicly.
“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.
McLear noted that 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 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 grassroots. 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.”
Contact Anthony York at