Arnold's Campaign Team Faces Unique Challenge

Arnold Schwarzenegger has scooped up the campaign team that got California's last Republican governor elected. But while former Gov. Pete Wilson's "battle-tested" old hands have wide experience, including running a presidential campaign for Russia's Boris Yeltsin, they face a different challenge promoting the "Terminator."

"I feel like I've got a tiger by the tail," said George Gorton, the neophyte candidate's top political strategist and a key Wilson aide for more than two decades.

From the moment he stunned his own advisers by announcing his candidacy on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Schwarzenegger showed he's hardly a methodical career politician like Wilson.

Now he must convert his star wattage and unconventional background into support from voters, while contending with Democratic attempts to cast him as a political lightweight. With less than two months from Saturday's candidate filing deadline to the Oct. 7 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis, Wilson's team gives him plenty of help.

In addition to Gorton, former Wilson aides Sean Walsh, Don Sipple and Joe Shumate are top strategists.

Wilson himself will serve as a co-chairman, and his longtime chief of staff, Bob White, has offered informal advice.

Gorton and other members of the team steered Wilson, a moderate Republican, through his 1982 and 1988 U.S. Senate wins and two bitter gubernatorial campaigns, in 1990 and 1994.

"It's a battle-tested team. They know what they're doing," said Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP consultant and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks political races.

If the landscape of the recall seems chaotic, they've seen worse — Gorton, Shumate and pollster Dick Dresner worked as advisers in Yeltsin's successful 1996 re-election campaign.

A film was made about that campaign. Called "Spinning Boris," it's scheduled to air on Showtime this year. Jeff Goldblum plays Gorton.

Schwarzenegger has something over Yeltsin as a political client, Gorton said: "He's sober."

Wilson was intimately involved in plotting campaign strategy, sometimes drafting statements himself, said his former speech writer, Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow who is not part of Schwarzenegger's campaign.

"The key word to look for here will be discipline," Whalen said. "Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very disciplined man himself, a guy who's never gone out and done anything haphazardly. Pete Wilson's California campaigns were also an exercise in discipline."

Schwarzenegger also will take a hands-on role in directing the campaign, advisers said. But the actor lacks Wilson's background in government and deep command of issues, and he and his aides face a challenge as opponents and the public demand specifics about what Schwarzenegger would do as governor.

California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres held a news conference Friday to hammer Schwarzenegger for ducking a question about the state's paid family leave law during a television interview.

"The job of governor is not about on-the-job training," Torres said.

Some of Schwarzenegger's own comments could fuel that line of attack. The day after announcing his candidacy, he told reporters he wanted to make sure "everyone in California has a great job, a fantastic job," said he was passionate about children, and promised to reform Sacramento.

But he took only four questions and offered no specific plan.

Schwarzenegger's aides insist the policy proposals are coming. They promise to put forward a budget program and offer solutions for other issues like any other candidate. Schwarzenegger also promised to release his tax returns.

But the actor and his team are casting the recall race as being about character and leadership more than issues.

"This is not a position election. This is a character election. People are looking at character here, they're looking at somebody who will go in and clean house," Gorton told reporters.

Questioned on "The Today Show" about how he would turn California's economy around, Schwarzenegger said: "The first and most important thing is, is to know that it takes leadership." He offered no details.

Some Republican analysts believe Schwarzenegger won't have to put forward many specifics, as long as he shows voters he understands the anger that led 1.6 million of them to sign recall petitions.

"I think for now what he has to tap into is why the recall got to this point and what exactly voters are frustrated with. ... Character makes a lot of sense as a theme for Schwarzenegger," Whalen said.