WASHINGTON – President Bush says he is ready to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) if Californians elect him as their next governor, but he stopped short Tuesday of the praise he had previously offered the actor-turned-candidate.
In August, Bush declared that "I think he'd be a good governor." On Tuesday, as Californians went to the polls, the president sidestepped questions about whether he still maintained that view following disclosures that Schwarzenegger groped more than a dozen women.
"I feel like the California people are going to make a wise decision, that they are now in charge of the process," Bush said.
The president said he hadn't "been paying that close attention to it, because I got a job to do here in Washington."
But Bush's comments also suggested he had taken a keen interest in the race. More than 2 million people had voted by absentee ballot, a result Bush called "a pretty active turnout." Schwarzenegger, Bush said, has "waged a spirited campaign. He's captured a lot of people's imagination."
Recent polls in California have suggested that a majority of voters favored dumping the governor, and that Schwarzenegger was the leading replacement candidate. Asked whether Schwarzenegger is the kind of governor he could work with, Bush said: "If he's the governor, I'll work with him, absolutely."
The White House has kept its distance from the election in the nation's most populous state. Some advisers said they did not want to create the impression that the recall election was engineered or fueled by the White House.