Schwarzenegger's Strategy: Avoiding Details

Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) brief campaign for governor has so far relied on his star power, famous one-liners and appearances on entertainment television.

The action star has avoided having to detail his views on social issues or give a plan to fix California's enormous fiscal troubles, but some analysts say he might be best off sticking with generalities and avoiding specifics that opponents and the media could pick apart.

"He is fully formed in voters' minds already, they have an opinion of him that's been shaped over 20 years of watching his movies, they feel like they know him, so I think traditional politics are out the window in terms of demands for specificity of messages," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University in Sacramento.

Schwarzenegger has said he wants to help children, draw business back to the state and reform Sacramento, but he has not said how.

During a Monday visit to a day camp in New York City, Schwarzenegger again declined to speak with reporters or discuss his candidacy, instead spending his time with the camp's 6- and 7-year-olds.

Organizers said Schwarzenegger's visit was planned long before he announced his candidacy on the "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" last week. But coming just days after his announcement, the visit drew about two dozen television cameras.

"Look at all the press back there," Schwarzenegger told the children. "They're all here for you. ... They love after-school programs."

On Saturday, the actor told supporters he would be "the people's governor," but refused to get into specifics, ignoring shouted questions about taxes and the state's fiscal crisis.

"I will be there for everybody, young and old, men and women alike, it doesn't make any difference," he said.

A spokesman, Rob Stutzman, said Schwarzenegger would release policy plans, but did not say when.

"There's been no intention to avoid specifics, but in due time and in his time and in the manner that he wants to he will lay that vision out," Stutzman said.

The risks of detailing positions were evident Sunday, when former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson (search), a co-chairman of Schwarzenegger's campaign, said he believed Schwarzenegger had supported Proposition 187 (search), and Schwarzenegger's campaign confirmed it.

The proposition which sought to deny many services to illegal immigrants was supported by a majority of the public when in passed in 1994, but outraged many Hispanics. It resulted in an upsurge in Hispanic voter registration and remains a touchstone issue for the Hispanic community. Democrats jumped on the revelation to criticize Schwarzenegger.

"Obviously every time you declare a position you potentially disappoint some people who like you as a person," said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.

The only specific plan Schwarzenegger has announced so far is almost risk-free — he said he would roll back the state's vehicle license fee, which tripled this year as a result of California's budget deficit. Schwarzenegger's leading Republican rivals have proposed the same thing, and so has the one prominent Democrat in the race, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search).

Davis repeated his calls Monday for more details from Schwarzenegger.

"I think Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the first to tell you he's got a long ways to go to explain what he would do as governor," he said on "The Today Show."

Bill Simon, the GOP businessman who lost to Davis in November and is running again, trying to appeal to conservative activists, also demanded more answers.

"You just can't go into the governor's office on Oct. 8 and say OK now I'm governor, let me break open my textbooks," Simon said in an interview. "You're going to actually have to have a plan and soundbites are not enough, Hollywood scripts are not enough." Simon himself was criticized for not producing a budget plan last year.

Some analysts, including Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg, said though Schwarzenegger must demonstrate competence and avoid major gaffes, he may be able to avoid the nitty-gritty of public policy.

"I think for Schwarzenegger the more important element is to avoid major blunders that would call into question his lack of experience in the public sector," he said.