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Saturday Night's Alright (for getting along)

Arnold should avoid getting into a tussle with McClintock this Saturday at the California Republican convention.

7:50 AM, Sep 12, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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JUST WHAT ARNOLD NEEDS: more national air time. On Monday, Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, will appear on the season premiere of the "Oprah Winfrey Show." It marks the couple's first joint interview during recall--this one, with an old friend (Maria and Oprah worked together in Baltimore, in the mid-1980s, when both were cracking the news biz). Arnold needs to do better with women voters and Oprah's viewing audience is 75 percent female.

Then there's the question of what to do about Howard Stern, who's an inroad to another voting bloc Schwarzenegger needs: Generation Y. Arnold appeared on the shock jock's radio show back in June, when he was promoting "Terminator 3." Stern expects a return appearance now that the FCC has ruled his broadcast qualifies as a "bona fide news interview program" (take that, Tim Russert). An Arnold appearance wouldn't trigger an equal-time requirement for all recall candidates, but it would trigger a Maalox moment for his staffers. They don't want to alienate conservative Republicans. And they fear a replay of last June's dialogue, which wasn't exactly family values:

Stern: You will be the governor of California . . . . We will help. I'll get you in office. But I need to be invited to the mansion.

Arnold: There is no mansion in Sacramento.

Stern: Then I need to videotape you and Maria having sex. I need some sort of perverted payment.

While Team Schwarzenegger figures out the national media strategy (Arnold also did "The O'Reilly Factor" on Wednesday, but only because that show threw a fair-and-balanced hissy fit after the candidate did an impromptu interview earlier this week with Chris Matthews), there's a more local concern: how to play this weekend's state Republican convention in Los Angeles. Does Arnold, the featured speaker at Saturday's luncheon, take on his more conservative rival, state senator Tom McClintock? Does the Terminator take the high road and talk the immigrant dream during his speech, or does he throw red meat to the crowd and take on Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante?

Trying to answer these questions is what makes recall such a great parlor game. There are plenty of moves for Arnold, and no simple solutions. But if common sense prevails, Arnold's weekend goes something like this:

Ignore McClintock. This won't be easy, as the moderates vs. conservatives story will dominate the convention (this is the price of being a California Republican--political reporters hit F1 on their laptops and up pops the obligatory "Republicans in Turmoil" piece). It won't help matters if dirty tricks come into play--slipping unflattering flyers under hotel doors is a time-honored tradition at these conventions.

Arnold's fortunate in that he speaks at Saturday's luncheon before McClintock speaks at dinner. He won't have to react to anything said later that night if, for instance, McClintock slaps him around for refusing to debate at the convention. The Schwarzenegger camp needs to see the big picture--and listen to what McClintock has been saying of late. For all the media fascination with the GOP divide, this one statement from a McClintock appearance on "Hannity & Colmes" stands out: "My support would go to Arnold if it looks like Arnold's the only hope of stopping Cruz Bustamante and I think Arnold's support would come to me if our momentum continues and they realize they can actually have their first choice and he can win." If Arnold maintains his lead, McClintock will fall in line. So why bully or antagonize him?

Find Common Ground. Schwarzenegger and party conservatives don't see eye-to-eye on abortion, gay rights, Proposition 54, or a litany of other social issues. But there will be one consensus in that hotel ballroom: Gray Davis has to go.

If I were staffing Arnold for this event, I'd put two speech passages into his Friday night briefing package. One comes from an address delivered three years ago at the state convention by Bill Jones, the former California secretary of state. Jones, at the time the GOP's only statewide officeholder, told the audience how'd he explain the state of affairs to his newborn granddaughter: