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Fun City U.S.A.

It was a big recall weekend with a GOP convention, a Bubba fly-by, and Gray and Cruz, together again for the very first time.

9:30 AM, Sep 15, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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FOR A BRIEF PERIOD this weekend, Los Angeles supplanted New York as America's "fun city." On Saturday, the city played host to the California Republican party's fall convention and a Democratic anti-recall rally. The following morning, Bill Clinton took center stage at LA's First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's oldest black congregation.

Clinton's appearance was recall symmetry at its best. Today, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver will appear on Oprah Winfrey's show. Clinton--the guy who flirted with going mano-a-mano with Oprah on the tube--beat her to California in an effort to save the endangered Democratic governor.

"Gray Davis and I have been friends for a long time," Clinton told the faithful, "and I don't want this happening to him. This is way bigger than him. It's you I'm worried about. It's California I worry about. I don't want you to become a laughingstock or the beginning of a circus in America where we throw people out for making tough decisions."

Never mind that Clinton's career was s a study in avoiding "tough" decisions. He and the rest of the Democratic elite (Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and a host of presidential candidates who are expected to campaign for Davis) have decided that if you can't beat recall, conjoin it--to Hillary's vast right-wing conspiracy.

Of course, this requires a departure from reality--and maybe the biggest case of West Coast denial this side of Bennifer's wedding planners. Representative Robert Matsui, for example, believes the White House is "deeply, heavily involved" in recall when the very opposite is true: the Bush administration wants no part of the October 7 election. Eliot Shapleigh, one of the Texas state senators who fled Austin to avoid a redistricting vote, attended Saturday's anti-recall pep rally. He tried to convince California Democrats that their governor is a victim of a Republican "national abuse of power." Whatever you say, hoss.

Ironically, for all the recall buzz in Los Angeles this weekend, very little has changed. Republicans still haven't come to grips with their two-headed candidate slate and Democrats still don't agree on what strategy gets top priority--saving Davis by defeating the recall or electing Cruz Bustamante on the second half of the ballot or some hybrid thereof.

First, the Republicans' LA story:

Arnold emerged as a convention winner simply because he didn't suffer any setbacks. The candidate did receive his fair share of abuse, beyond the obligatory debate chicken. CodePink, a women's peace group, crashed the Republicans' Saturday luncheon and interrupted Schwarzenegger's speech by unfurling a pink banner with black lettering that read: "Sexual misconduct is not a family value" (Arnold never even acknowledged the stunt, simply continuing with his remarks). Californians for Moral Government--part of the Reverend Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition--said it will air TV ads this coming week criticizing Arnold for his support for abortion rights and gay adoptions. (In the ad, Schwarzenegger morphs into Davis while a voice-over says: "When it comes to important issues, Arnold Schwarzenegger is no better than Gray Davis.").

But if Schwarzenegger morphed into anyone during his Saturday speech, it was the Gipper. Arnold's delivery isn't Reaganesque--he read sometimes awkwardly from a script rather than use a TelePrompTer (this will have to change, if he's elected). Occasionally, he raced through applause lines. However, his message was hard to miss. Seven times in his speech, Arnold referred to himself as a "conservative"; three times, he invoked Reagan's name. Here's his best passage:

Let me tell you what being a conservative means to me. I'm a conservative because I believe communism is evil and free enterprise is good. I'm a conservative because Milton Friedman is right and Karl Marx is wrong. I'm a conservative because I believe government serves the people, the people don't serve the government. I'm a conservative because I believe in a balanced budget, not budget deficits. I'm a conservative because I believe money that people earn is their money and not the government's money. And when you look at the drivers' license outrage, I am a conservative because I believe in the rules of the law, not political pandering.

Arnold charmed his audience; he didn't go out of his way to charm the press, taking a pass on a post-speech media availability. And he certainly didn't sway McClintock. "It's obvious to me that Arnold Schwarzenegger, because of his refusal to stand here and discuss the issues of this campaign, doesn't believe he is ready to be governor," the state senator told reporters at a Saturday afternoon press conference. "He certainly doesn't believe he is ready to debate the issues. If he isn't ready to debate the issues, how is he going to be able to act on them when the last vote is counted?"