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Arnie the politician hits a rough patch

Los Angeles, Aug. 9: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition from movie star to gubernatorial candidate hit its first rough patch yesterday as he ducked questions about the state’s fiscal crisis, gay mariage and workplace benefits.

At the same time, Schwarzenegger picked up the support of President Bush, who said the bodybuilder-turned-actor would make a good governor. But on the third day of his campaign, the novice Republican candidate drew his first sustained attack from Democrats, who pounced on his refusal to answer some questions during a round of morning interviews on national television news shows.

Asked on ABC’s Good Morning America about gay marriage, he replied: “I don’t want to get into that right now.” Asked if he was open to raising taxes, he suggested that instead of raising taxes or cutting services he could solve the state’s massive structural deficit simply by bringing business back to the state. Financial experts who rate the state bonds have said that cuts in services or higher taxes or both are necessary to close the state’s budget gap.

On NBC’s Today Show, interviewer Matt Lauer pressed him. “You talk about the budget deficit. You talk about the energy crisis, the slumping economy, people leaving California. Give me some specifics, Arnold. How are you going to turn it around'”

Schwarzenegger offered no details, focusing his answer on the governor: “Well, I think the first and most important thing is to know that it takes leadership, because Gray Davis is saying he has the experience and all of those things. We have seen now what happens. He has sold himself as the man that has experience you cannot buy. What happened with all his experience' Look at the situation we’re in right now.”

Asked later in the same interview whether he would disclose his tax returns as candidates for high office typically do, Schwarzenegger fiddled with his earpiece and said he could not hear the question. (In an appearance to kick off a youth sports event in Bellflower, California, later, Schwarzenegger said he would make the disclosure but did not say when. “Absolutely. I have nothing to hide,” he said.)

Democrats quickly seized on the TV appearances. The state Democratic party put out a statement saying: “Pretending they can’t hear the questions might work in Hollywood, but it doesn’t cut it for the voters of California.” Democratic chairman Art Torres added in an interview: “I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about... and all the ruminations that I have heard him express sound like old cliches from a country club sitting around smoking cigars.”

Garry South, who led Davis’ two successful campaigns for governor, went further.

“Clearly what he has decided to do is to try to shelter himself from the mainstream political press and hide under the skirts of the entertainment press,” South said.

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