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Gov.'s World Tour May Be a Presidential Campaign Trail

As Schwarzenegger racks up global photo ops, backers seek to amend the Constitution.

Los Angeles Times | November 20, 2004
By Peter Nicholas

SACRAMENTO More and more, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is acting as if he wants to be president.

Though he insists he is not aiming for the Oval Office, Schwarzenegger is keeping a public schedule that repeatedly puts him in forums that cast him as a political figure of global stature.

He is using his office in ways that analysts and public officials say could strengthen a presidential bid if the U.S. Constitution is ever amended to allow foreign-born citizens to run. And all of this is helping to fuel a fledgling movement striving to pass such an amendment.

Schwarzenegger recently said on national television that new cable TV commercials urging a constitutional change are, if anything, a distraction. He said he should be left out of the debate. But organizers of "Amend for Arnold" say he has privately given them encouragement and even a photo they can use for a campaign that would be a necessary prelude to any Schwarzenegger presidential bid.

Should the Constitution be changed, there is hardly a guarantee that Schwarzenegger would survive the Republican presidential primaries. He is a moderate Republican who favors abortion rights and opposes a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage. His wife, a Democrat, is a member of the Kennedy family. Conservative voters demonstrated their clout in the 2000 GOP primaries, sinking the candidacy of moderate Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"He runs into the same problems that a Rudy Giuliani and a John McCain and other moderates in the party run into, which is to be able to win a nomination in the Republican Party as George Bush has shown you really have to consolidate the right," said Leon Panetta, former chief of staff under President Clinton.

"And it makes it real difficult to be nominated when someone is attacking you on all moderate and liberal positions," said Panetta, who was named by Schwarzenegger this month to be co-chairman of an advisory panel on military base closures.

But Schwarzenegger has shown surpassing ambition in his bodybuilding, acting and political careers. He is not easily deterred by conventional wisdom.

He signed no deals and created no new jobs during his recent four-day trade mission to Tokyo, but the governor produced one enduring image that could pay off should he ever run for president: a face-to-face meeting with the Japanese prime minister.

"More popular than Bush," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said of California's governor at a brief photo op during which the two sat side-by-side and joked.

One year into his term, Schwarzenegger has visited the king of Jordan and the prime minister of Israel. At President Bush's behest, he represented the U.S. at a state funeral for the Austrian president in July. He is planning visits next year to China and Europe, where he can expect to meet still more foreign leaders, garner more international press attention and speed his evolution in the public consciousness from entertainer to serious political figure.

"He's enhancing his presence on the international stage," said Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), an advisor to Schwarzenegger.

"The biggest hurdle for any presidential candidate is to be seen credibly as a national and international leader," said Dan Schnur, a Sacramento political consultant with ties to Schwarzenegger's administration. "Every time Arnold appears in one of these settings, it makes him that much more credible."

One conspicuous hole in the governor's foreign itinerary is Mexico, California's lead trade partner. Schwarzenegger scheduled and then postponed a one-day trip to Mexico, where he has been derided for failing to approve driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

In a bit of cross-marketing, Schwarzenegger is also finding myriad ways to reach a national audience. Billboards featuring the governor have been posted in a dozen cities, from Orlando to Seattle, as part of Schwarzenegger's promotion of California as an attractive place to do business.

During the presidential campaign, Schwarzenegger reached an out-of-state audience through automated phone calls for Bush in Hawaii, Michigan and Wisconsin. Then there were the speeches he gave at a campaign stop with Bush in Columbus, Ohio, and at the Republican National Convention, where he denounced "economic girlie men."

"The delegates at that convention are a pretty conservative group, and I was down on the floor right after he spoke and I can tell you they loved it," said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist and informal advisor to the president. "Anybody who came out there thinking he's a liberal Republican had no hesitation about liking him after that speech."

Schwarzenegger is to give a speech at former President George H.W. Bush's library in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 30. And he continues to find influential roles in his government for a mentor with White House bona fides: George Shultz, a Cabinet secretary in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Shultz was recently named chairman of Schwarzenegger's newly created Council of Economic Advisors, and he is often seen walking through the governor's suite of offices.

"He's never been comfortable with ceilings of any kind before, and you have to imagine he would like to burst through another ceiling," Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said of Schwarzenegger.

The Silicon Valley group that maintains http://www.amendforarnold.org began showing TV commercials this week urging Californians to change the Constitution so foreign-born citizens can run for president.

It's no easy feat. Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution holds that presidents must be "natural born" citizens. Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and maintains dual citizenship. Amending the Constitution so he could run for president would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states. Though Schwarzenegger's popularity in California hovers at 65%, polls show that voters oppose changing the Constitution by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Schwarzenegger has no official ties to the group pushing for the change and has even portrayed it as something of a nuisance. He told CNN's Larry King this week that "it is somewhat in the way of what I'm trying to do in California because in a way it makes it look like this is what I'm aiming for and I'm doing all this in order to reach the next step, which is not the case."

Yet privately, Schwarzenegger has sent a different message, according to the group's co-founder. Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, a retired mutual fund manager, said the governor told her in August that he was delighted with her efforts.

"He was so pleased," she said.

At Schwarzenegger's election night party in a Beverly Hills hotel this month, Morgenthaler-Jones distributed "Amend for Arnold" buttons. Among those sporting buttons that night was former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a Schwarzenegger friend and advisor.

The governor's camp sent Morgenthaler-Jones a picture of Schwarzenegger that she can use for the campaign, sparing her the royalty fees she had been paying for a different photo.

Morgenthaler-Jones said she would put up more TV ads on Thanksgiving Day, during an airing of Schwarzenegger's film "True Lies."

"I just thought that would be so much fun," she said.

She said Schwarzenegger's foreign travel helps forge his credentials as a leader of presidential caliber.

"Our present president, if I remember correctly, had never been off our shores," she said of George W. Bush, remembering incorrectly. "That is not really the perfect qualification for president. You kind of like them to cross an ocean once or twice."

It is clear from Schwarzenegger's overseas travels that multiple agendas are at work. Inevitably there is both a public rationale for the trip and a subtler political objective. In Israel, Schwarzenegger said he wanted to promote economic development and boasted of deals that brought in hundreds of jobs. Yet some of the companies cited said their plans were in the works before the governor took office and that Schwarzenegger did not necessarily deserve credit.

During that trip, Schwarzenegger laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum while reporters watched, a gesture that helped answer charges during the recall campaign that Schwarzenegger had once spoken admiringly of Adolf Hitler.

The stated purpose of his trip to Japan was a trade mission. But the visit also thrust Schwarzenegger before an adoring Japanese public that knows him from movies and a dozen TV commercials. At a time when U.S. alliances abroad are strained over the war in Iraq, the images seemed to suggest that here was a political leader with the broadest appeal.

In an interview Schwarzenegger gave with the Tokyo Broadcast System, he was asked about his presidential aspirations.

"I'm not really thinking about that," he told the interviewer. "Because if you take your eye off the ball, that's when you lose."

Amid a recent rash of publicity over a possible constitutional amendment and Schwarzenegger's aspirations, the governor faces new complications, some analysts said. He was elected governor under the most extraordinary circumstances, hired in a historic recall election to rescue a state in financial crisis.

If he is now seen as angling for higher office, he jeopardizes some of the bipartisan appeal that has been crucial to his success, some said. He also risks a backlash from critics worried about his rise. A Texas radio host announced this week that he would try to block passage of an amendment. Alex Jones, an Austin-based talk show host, said he would raise money for his own TV ads through a website called http://www.arnoldexposed.com .

Bill Carrick, a Democratic political consultant, said to "go overseas and do that kind of photo op diplomacy does raise questions" about whether Schwarzenegger wants to be president. "And historically, what we've seen in California is that it's very difficult to govern successfully here if there's a whole lot of presidential rumors about you."

Carrick added that the governor's travels "give the impression that someone is trying to build a photo log of him with prominent world leaders that [are later] put into commercials."