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Schwarzenegger is reticent on Bush campaign

Keeps president at arms length

SACRAMENTO -- As President Bush spends more time on the campaign trail, there is one prominent and popular Republican virtually silent in his support for the president: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

The presidential campaign season typically finds governors rushing to the side of their party's president, cozying up to the glamour of motorcades, wealthy donors, and rapt supporters. But with his own movie-star allure and significant political disputes with Bush, Schwarzenegger has kept the president at arms length.

Schwarzenegger has not traveled to battleground states to campaign for Bush, nor has he forcefully attacked Bush's challenger, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Although Schwarzenegger is an honorary cochairman of Bush's campaign, he rarely comments on the president's performance.

Schwarzenegger aides say they expect the California governor will campaign for Bush, but add that he is focusing on the state budget and other government reforms. The relationship between the president and the governor nevertheless is colored by key differences on public policy, from gay rights to abortion, from offshore oil leases to military base closures, and by Schwarzenegger's own popularity. "Schwarzenegger is a global figure, and globally who is seen more positively right now? Definitively, it's Schwarzenegger," said K.B. Forbes, a Republican political consultant.

It's clear, too, that Schwarzenegger sees himself as a different type of Republican than Bush. When asked recently whether Bush is a good political fit for California, the governor replied: "If George Bush was living in California, as he did in Texas, he would understand Californians very well so he knows what he needs to do and what kind of philosophy he needs to have to win."

In March, when Bush traveled to Los Angeles and Bakersfield for campaign events, Schwarzenegger was not at his side except for attending a private fund-raiser. After devastating fires swept Southern California, Bush met with the governor-elect, but then toured the damaged area alone.

More recently, Schwarzenegger has traveled to the Middle East, met with the Israeli prime minister, dined with the king of Jordan, and greeted cheering US troops in German. He was acting like a president himself.

By contrast, other Republican governors have been helpful to Bush, including Governor George Pataki of New York, who campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire. The Republican governors of Minnesota, Texas, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Maryland, and South Dakota have all done media interviews, issued statements of support, or participated in campaign events for Bush, campaign aides said.

"All Arnold would have to do is say the president is doing a fantastic job, and he would swing a whole bunch of voters," said Michael Blitz, author of "Why Arnold Matters," a book about Schwarzenegger's cultural influence. "The fact that he hasn't done that is fascinating."

Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director, said that the two men are on friendly terms, but that the governor "is not primarily a partisan person."

Bush supporters in California say they are not worried about the governor's commitment to the president. The two men get along well in person, they add, and Schwarzenegger is expected to play an important role at the Republican National Convention.

Given Bush's political weakness in California, it is an open question whether his campaign will make a serious effort to capture the state. Some Republican strategists believe that Schwarzenegger's active involvement would be critical to Bush's chances.

Schwarzenegger has said publicly that he would like as much as $1 billion in federal aid to compensate for expenses related to illegal immigration. His administration is negotiating with the Pentagon and Bush to avoid further cuts to military bases in California. And Schwarzenegger would like to see the federal government prevent further off-shore oil drilling by buying back 36 oil leases that oil companies currently hold off the California coast. Bush made a similar deal in Florida in an apparent bid to help his brother, Governor Jeb Bush, on the eve of his reelection bid last year.

In his requests, Schwarzenegger has sent a blunt message to the Republican president: If you want the support of Californians this November, then pay up. He said Californians will "very much appreciate" federal help, he recently told the Los Angeles Times, and "that will weigh heavily on election day."

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