Arnold Wows Delegates With Politics, Stardom

He starred in "Conan the Barbarian" and "Last Action Hero." Now he is one of the main attractions at the Republican National Convention (search).

World-famous movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), governor of California, the largest state in the union, is wowing convention-goers not only with his one-liners, but also with his substance, delegates say.

"When they start seeing the results around the country that we are seeing in California, they will see him as the governor, not a movie star," said Carolyn Anderson, a Republican activist from Upland, Calif., who wore a T-shirt that said "I’m With Arnold."

Schwarzenegger's theatrical skills, however, have come in handy this week.

"To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie men!" Schwarzenegger told delegates and guests in a Madison Square Garden speech Tuesday night.

Schwarzenegger was harkening back to the famous "Saturday Night Live" sketch, which poked fun at the then-bodybuilder-turned-actor. He first employed the term during July's state budget debate in which he accused Democratic lawmakers of delay tactics and catering to special interests.

Democrats protested the remark, saying it was sexist and homophobic. Schwarzenegger dismissed the charges, and the budget standoff soon ended in what both sides described as a fair and bipartisan compromise. 

A Field Poll two weeks later showed Schwarzenegger with the highest approval rating for a California governor in 30 years. Some pundits even gave partial credit to the "girlie men" remark for breaking the ice.

Now in New York, the governor was demonstrating his star power in another playing field — the national political circle. Even highly-regarded conservative officials are touting their ties to him.

California Rep. David Dreier (search) recalled Schwarzenegger’s request for help in the 2003 gubernatorial race. "David, I need your help," Dreier quoted the governor, imitating his Austrian accent at a meeting of the free market-oriented Club for Growth (search). "How do you turn down the 'Terminator?'" Dreier asked his audience, referring to the actor's most famous role.

Schwarzenegger's experience during convention week was far different from that of other politicians. While many were able to walk through the city incognito, Schwarzenegger draws a crowd of gawkers almost everywhere he goes.

Hundreds of fans and about 50 members of the media filled 45th Street to watch the governor’s "red carpet arrival" at Planet Hollywood on Thursday. Some of the onlookers waited for two hours or more just to catch a glimpse of the muscle-bound lawmaker.

Although many GOP events in New York City drew demonstrations, Schwarzenegger's Planet Hollywood (search) appearance was reasonably protest-free with the press, fans and even police in a relaxed mood as they listened to Beach Boys tunes over a loudspeaker.

"This is easy stuff," one police captain said, comparing the event to the much more raucous protests that police have been working throughout the week.

"The sun is shining and we’re waiting for Arnold. It could be worse," added a plainclothed security agent.

When Schwarzenegger arrived, the crowd squealed and chanted "Arnold, Arnold."

Asked about the governor's reception in New York, Schwarzenegger's press secretary Margita Thompson told without a hint of irony that the governor is "pumped up by the crowds and the way he has been treated."

Though Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood fame threatened to overshadow his politics, among Republican delegates, it was his political efforts and achievements that made him great.

"Wonderful" is how Katie Bolon, a delegate from Sarasota, Fla., described his speech Tuesday night. "He was even better than when he was the 'Terminator.'"

"I thought that he was terrific. His ‘girlie men’ line was the best," said Koreen Hughes, a delegate from Eldersburg, Md.

Karen Juarez Boyd, a delegate from Los Angeles, thinks Schwarzenegger is much more than an action hero.

"I think he has a real challenge ahead," she said. "Star power is helpful in getting elected, but now he has to deal with problems. Star power is nice, but it’s just the icing on the cake. In the end, he will be judged by his deeds."

Frankie Middleton, a Republican activist from Michigan, said that Schwarzenegger's box-office stardom should not be dismissed. "He had to work to get there. He had to work hard."

Schwarzenegger said he was happy that he was able to speak at the convention and solidify his bona fides as a politician.

"He was able to display a sense of gravitas," Thompson said.

But Schwarzenegger's moderate political views, which may appeal to swing voters, didn't impress some delegates. Although his abortion, gay rights and immigration positions appeal to Californians, some Republicans outside the Golden State thought the governor's views are a bit out of the party’s mainstream.

"He has his vision and we have ours," said John Hayssley, a Bush supporter from Houston, Texas. "But the party can handle all sides," he added.

"He may have some difficulties with some of his positions outside of California," agreed Daniel Branch, a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

But former and prospective California Rep. Dan Lungren said he was happy that the party heard the governor’s moderate message.

"He delivered a message that needs to be heard in our party on immigration. … He helped present the overall theme of this convention: Let’s get past these arguments about swift boats and Vietnam and focus on the future."