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Arnie ‘bombs’ at media premiere

Washington, Aug. 22 (Reuters): Actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger either “bombed” and used his celebrity to “fake his way through” or was “smart not to get more specific” at a news conference laying down his plans for fiscally troubled California, US newspapers said today.

Flanked by business and academic advisers at a 45-minute televised news conference on Wednesday, Republican Schwarzenegger presented his conservative economic programme for the first time since declaring his candidacy in the state’s October 7 recall election for governor.

In an editorial entitled, Mr Schwarzenegger Talks! the Washington Post said he “bombed in his long-awaited premiere as would-be governor.”

His social policies, such as support for after-school programmes and abortion rights and gay rights, are attractive and could be “a winning package” if combined with his fiscal conservatism, the Washington Post said. However, he did not give evidence of the “expertise and realism” to deal with the state’s economic woes.

California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, faces an $8 billion deficit next year.

New York Times editorial columnist Paul Krugman called Schwarzenegger, “Conan the Deceiver,” a play on his 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, and rapped him for brushing aside economic questions with his response, “the public doesn’t care about figures.” “This was ‘fuzzy math’ on steroids — Schwarzenegger was, in effect, asserting his celebrity gives him the right to fake his way through the election.”

The candidate known throughout the state as “Arnold” is one of 135 vying to replace Democratic governor Gray Davis if he loses an unprecedented recall election.

The Austrian-born former Mr Universe has never held public office, but polls show that he and lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, are the top candidates.

Schwarzenegger sought to reassure ruffled voters that he had no intention of solving the state’s fiscal woes by repealing the politically popular cap on property taxes known as Proposition 13. To adviser billionaire Warren Buffett who raised the idea last week, the candidate joked that if it were mentioned again Buffett “has to do 500 sit ups.”

The Washington Post called Buffett’s suggestion of taking another look at tax rates “entirely reasonable,” and said Buffett, who serves on the Washington Post Co’s board of directors, “could handle the calisthenics.”

The New York Times yesterday said Schwarzenegger showed “practiced theatricality” but gave few specifics on his economic plan. However, it noted that economic and political choices are beginning to emerge for Californians.

But more influential in the state is the Los Angeles Times, which, although, still opposes the recall, said Schwarzenegger gave a “relaxed, confident” performance.

“Schwarzenegger was smart not to get more specific” on his economic plans, the paper said and urged him to drop his line that taxes are too high since rates are lower than they were when he arrived in 1968.

But for those voters warm to Schwarzenegger, the Los Angeles Times suggested they “can have it both ways by rejecting the recall now and voting for him in the regular 2006 election, which is when the state should be changing governors.”

Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub said Schwarzenegger “displayed leadership abilities...or at least major league communications skills,” with appeal to disaffected voters “who want a firm hand in Sacramento and aren’t concerned about the details.”

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