Bush to visit Southern California -- governor plans to be elsewhere
- Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, concerned that the decline in President Bush's popularity will pull down his special election measures, is not expected to appear with the president when he visits California next week.
Bush is scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Los Angeles for the Republican National Committee on Thursday and help cut the ribbon Friday at the opening of the new Air Force One exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
Although the governor's staff will not confirm his schedule this far in advance, sources said Schwarzenegger is not planning to attend either event. He is tentatively scheduled to campaign next week, possibly in the Central Valley, on the days of the visit.
Neither the governor nor the president is popular with a majority of voters in California. But with the Nov. 8 special election barely three weeks away, the Republican governor needs the support of Democrats and independents -- as well as his party's voters -- to pass his self-styled reform agenda.
Some Republicans said that from a practical viewpoint, it makes sense for the Republican governor of a Democratic-leaning state to keep some miles between himself and the president.
"The reality is that the knee-jerk reaction by the governor's opponents to take him down is to call (Schwarzenegger) a Bush Republican," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution. "So if he hangs out with the president, it's probably a photo op he doesn't need.''
Whalen said Schwarzenegger's priority must be the four initiatives that he wants voters to approve: changes in teachers' tenure (Proposition 74), prohibiting public employee unions from using dues for political purposes without their members' permission (Prop. 75), budget changes (Prop. 76) and redistricting (Prop. 77).
"With respect to the president, the biggest favor he can do is stay out of this election," Whalen said. "Arnold doesn't want this to be a referendum on the war in Iraq, the price of gasoline and (Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers."
But Schwarzenegger's plan to skip Bush's visit has dismayed some Republicans at a time the president faces intense criticism over the Miers nomination, the war in Iraq and the possibility that aide Karl Rove might be indicted.
A White House emissary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the governor is getting bad counsel from his advisers. It will appear, "at a time when the president needs the support of a Republican governor (that Schwarzenegger) is turning his back" on Bush, the GOP leader said.
Moreover, the Republican leader said, Schwarzenegger's decision suggests "he prefers John McCain to George Bush,'' a reference to the governor's high-profile campaign swing in California last week alongside the maverick Republican senator from Arizona.
Schwarzenegger raised eyebrows among national Republican leaders last month when he told The Chronicle in an interview that he preferred that Bush schedule his California visit after the election.
But Democrats said that, like it or not, the failure of the Republican governor to appear alongside the president will be ammunition for their side.
"The governor is trying to create some distance between himself and the president. ... But we're going to make that connection every day of the week,'' said California's Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.
GOP spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said Democrats are simply trying to change the focus from Schwarzenegger's calls for reform.
"I don't expect Gov. Schwarzenegger to be hanging out with George Bush in California. We're facing some very serious issues in the state -- and unless the president of the United States is coming to town to hand over federal money to the governor to help us solve our problems, I don't see why the governor would allow himself to be distracted with the president's fundraising trip," she said.
White House officials, meanwhile, shrugged off the issue.
"We always extend an invitation to the governor whenever we travel to the state," White House deputy press secretary Ken Lisiaus said Friday. "I have not heard anything back at this point, (but) we certainly enjoy a good working relationship with the governor."
E-mail Carla Marinucci at email@example.com
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