LOS ANGELES – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) calls Ronald Reagan (search) a hero, an inspiration. And when he claims that Reagan's time as governor left the state with a blueprint for success, he doesn't discourage comparisons with his own administration.
"Many people forget what a tremendous force Ronald Reagan was for California as our governor," Schwarzenegger said Saturday after Reagan's death.
Although they shared the actor-turned-politician label, Schwarzenegger is far from a mirror image of his Republican predecessor — no one would mistake the politically moderate governor for the conservative icon Reagan became in his time. They ascended to power in different eras in Hollywood, as in politics.
But if political cousins more than soul mates, many see a connection between the two in their larger-than-life personas, a shared optimism and their ability to motivate voters of both parties, particularly through television appearances.
Reagan "had stronger political views than Schwarzenegger at this time, but they both came in with problems facing the state, both had an ability to communicate effectively," said GOP consultant Ed Rollins (search), Reagan's former political director.
Ken Khachigian, a chief speechwriter and White House aide for Reagan, said, "Schwarzenegger has big shoes to fill, but he's also really created the same kind of sensation as Reagan."
Although Hollywood actors by training, "Both proved to have enormous political skills," Khachigian said. "With Reagan paving the way, both had and have a great ability to influence voters, policies and the public through different forms of communication."
Schwarzenegger is known for his friendship with former President George H.W. Bush, but in his most important speeches he quotes Reagan. The governor often calls California "the golden dream by the sea," echoing Reagan's description of America as "the shining city on the hill."
They were not personally close, but "Reagan always inspired me," Schwarzenegger said Saturday, noting that he once distributed literature and made phone calls to support Reagan's candidacy. "I did not just admire him, I was fortunate enough to know him."
Schwarzenegger has had early success in Sacramento, but it's difficult to compare his brief time in office to Reagan's legacy.
Like Reagan, Schwarzenegger entered office as a political curiosity doubted by many. They both arrived in Sacramento in their mid-50s, Reagan campaigning against big government in the 1960s and Schwarzenegger against a dysfunctional Legislature last year. In winning office, both displayed an ability to attract Democratic votes.
But while Reagan's start was shaky — lawmakers were turned off by his disdain for the Sacramento political culture — Schwarzenegger used his political muscle, charm and popularity to force bipartisan deals. Eventually, Reagan became an effective compromiser in the statehouse.
Schwarzenegger is trying to get through a budget crisis without raising taxes, but Reagan pushed through a record tax increase in his first year as governor to pay down a deficit. He later cut taxes.
"Ideologically, Schwarzenegger is far more moderate than Reagan but both of them are bottom-line pragmatists," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. she said.
State GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim recalled that Schwarzenegger commissioned a bust of the Reagan and presented it to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
Schwarzenegger "did look to Reagan for a lot of his principles and ideas. But I think it goes well beyond the fact they both come out of an acting background," Sundheim said. "Both of them are optimistic about the future of this country, and that optimism is based on what the individual person could accomplish. ...They wanted to unleash the power of the individual."