LOS ANGELES – California Republicans say Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) stumbled through his first week as a candidate for governor.
More to the point, Republicans say Schwarzenegger's team has stumbled so soon out of the gate because the film star has developed what appears to be a case of stage fright, appearing only once in the past ten days to discuss his campaign.
His early lead has been cut nearly in half, he's offered no concrete proposals to address California's economic and budget woes and blundered into a damaging flap over property taxes.
An early indication that his campaign may not quite be ready for prime time came when Schwarzenegger announced to reporters, "I'll be going from home to home to talk to the people of California."
In a state with more than 15 million registered voters, many of whom are eager to hear the Terminator's pitch, Schwarzenegger appears to have lost his voice.
"What Arnold has to do is go out and start campaigning," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political strategist.
But so far, the candidate has not done so, choosing instead no-risk events built around after-school programs. He has communicated largely through an eclectic array of endorsements, among them former Gov. Pete Wilson, Democratic billionaire Warren Buffett (search) and actor Rob Lowe (search).
"People are not going to vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger because Pete Wilson endorsed him or Warren Buffett endorsed him or Rob Lowe endorsed him or anybody endorsed him," Hoffenblum said.
Schwarzenegger's absence appears to have taken a toll. The statewide Field Poll released last weekend showed Schwarzenegger narrowly trailing Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante 22-25, but running well ahead of three other GOP challengers.
Together the Republican vote nearly doubles Bustamante's. Good news for Schwarzenegger, but only if he can persuade fellow Republicans to quit.
That became much harder when Buffett, Schwarzenegger's top economic adviser, said California's property taxes were too low and hinted they may need to be raised.
The suggestion, which Schwarzenegger waited three days to rebuff, prompted an attack from Bill Simon, the party's nominee for governor last November.
"I'm Bill Simon. Gray Davis tripled our car taxes and now Arnold Schwarzenegger's team wants to triple our property taxes, which just goes to show you, don't send a liberal to do a tax-fighter's job," Simon said in radio ads that launched Sunday night.
Schwarzenegger responded Monday that he and Buffett disagree on property tax hikes.
"I expect many dynamic ideas and policy recommendations from my team. But with regards to my position on Proposition 13, my position is rock solid in support of that initiative."
Proposition 13, a citizen's initiative passed 25 years ago, cut property taxes by 30 percent and limited increases to 2 percent per year. Its passage marked the beginning of a taxpayers' revolt that spread through much of the country and helped propel former California Gov. Ronald Reagan to the White House.
"Proposition 13 is the third rail in California," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "You don't attack Proposition 13. Two-thirds of Californians voted for it in 1978 and more than two-thirds still support Proposition 13. So you don't take it on, particularly if you are a Republican. The Republicans regard Prop 13 as gospel."
State Sen. Tom McClintock said that Schwarzenegger does face a problem by surrounding himself with people who would consider tax increases. But, he added Simon is short on space to attack Schwarzenegger.
"I think Bill Simon is playing a dangerous game there. Just three years ago, he contributed $10,000 to Proposition 26, which sought to undermine the two-thirds vote requirement in Proposition 13 for property tax increases."
A review of campaign disclosure forms shows Simon's wife, Cindy, contributed $10,000 to Proposition 26, which aimed to use tax increases to pay for more construction to reduce class sizes. The proposition appeared on the March 2000 primary election ballot. It failed 51-48 percent despite a massively financed campaign for its passage.
Schwarzenegger is expected to appear on Wednesday at his own economic summit to announce his policy positions. It will be the first time that he has appeared to speak in depth on his vision for California, mired in a $38 billion deficit.