SAN DIEGO – Just when you thought California politics couldn’t get any more surreal, consider the final push of the special election campaign: dueling celebrity bus tours and a megawatt standoff outside one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s events, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

The Republican governor had embarked on a tour for the day, riding a customized white “Reform to Rebuild” bus to Southern California rallies in San Diego, Anaheim, Riverside and Irwindale. Previous such tours, the governor told supporters in San Diego, have “brought me so much luck” – something Schwarzenegger appears to need as he struggles to persuade skeptical voters to support four initiatives on Tuesday.

On this tour, though, Schwarzenegger had Hollywood company – and competition.

Traveling behind him in a rented fire engine and a generic white bus, adorned with red and white “Truth Squad” banners, were unionized teachers, nurses and firefighters, who have helped slice the governor’s popularity with expensive television ads and protests. They brought their own star power, husband-and-wife actors Beatty and Bening.

Beatty, a self-described liberal, has emerged as one of Schwarzenegger’s highest-profile opponents, giving speeches blasting the governor for being too conservative for California and even cutting a radio ad urging “no” votes on the governor’s agenda.

Outside the governor’s first rally, at an airport hangar in San Diego, Beatty and Bening, accompanied by private security, and officials with the California Nurses Association and California Teachers Association strode up to the threshold of the hangar entrance.

And were politely turned away.

The standoff was cordial, as standoffs go, with Schwarzenegger press aide Darrel Ng explaining that only people on the guest list and members of the press could enter the airport hangar. The hangar door was then shut on the couple, but then reopened before the governor began to speak.

So the Hollywood husband and wife stood there listening silently, four feet outside the rally. Beatty placed his hand over his heart for the singing of the national anthem. He put his index finger to his lips when reporters tried to ask him questions: “I don’t want to be rude to the speakers.”

For more than an hour they stood in the bright sun, as journalists and Schwarzenegger supporters pulled claustrophobically close. Bening set her jaw firm and stood on tiptoes in her Dansko clogs, trying to see the stage around the mass of “Reform and Rebuild” Schwarzenegger signs arrayed to block the view inside.

One man asked Bening to sign his Schwarzenegger literature. She smiled and politely shook her head no. Another told Beatty to “Go back to Hollywood, you piece of crap.”

Others mocked Beatty’s movies, especially “Dick Tracy,” as he and Bening laughed. Then, talk radio host Roger Hedgecock, the former mayor of San Diego, said he wanted a 2006 governor’s race between the Terminator and Dick Tracy, saying Beatty would be “squashed like a bug.” (There has been much talk in Democratic circles about a Beatty run in 2006; he said Saturday that he doesn’t want to run.)

Inside the hangar – and throughout the day – the governor stuck to his themes: The 2003 recall election only changed the governor. But the same politicians and special interests still hold sway in Sacramento. To start righting the state’s budget, educational and political structures, more changes are needed.

Calling Tuesday “judgment day,” the governor made repeated pleas for supporters to support his causes. “Remember, it’s 72 hours from now,” he said. “Seventy-two hours from now, we can fix the broken system.”

The governor did not mention Beatty by name Saturday. On a bus tour earlier in the week, the governor said he considered Beatty a friend and would not talk about him because he tries to be a “gentleman.”

Later Saturday, the governor told reporters inside his bus, “There is the main event, then there is the sideshow. I don’t care about the sideshow, I care about the main event. The main event are the people of California. I will do anything to keep my promise to the people of California to deliver reform. And I will do anything to reach out and to make sure the Democrats and Republicans know that I do not pick one party over another.”

Beatty said the dispute wasn’t personal, but political. He likes the governor and is close to first lady Maria Shriver’s family, having worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and every Democratic presidential campaign since.

He said his message of the day was simple: “Get out and vote. Get out and vote. You can’t protest this thing by staying at home.” He contended that the governor’s strategy is to depress turnout by calling the unscheduled election this year, knowing that Republicans are more reliable voters than Democrats.

The governor is promoting propositions 74 through 77 on Tuesday’s ballot. They would increase the length of probation for new teachers, require public employee unions to get annual written permission from members to use their dues for political purposes, place limits on state spending, and give the power to redraw political boundaries to a retired panel of judges, instead of lawmakers.

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On that last point, Schwarzenegger got a boost from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who made a cameo at the governor’s bus stop in Riverside.

McCain, known for his commitment to political reform, joined Schwarzenegger at the outdoor rally at the Fleetwood recreational vehicle dealership, where the sound system played “Why Can’t We be Friends,” drowning out the chants of protesters.

McCain said he was incensed at the tactics of foes of the redistricting measure, Proposition 77, including a recent anti-77 mailer that resembles a jury duty summons.

“I say shame on them,” McCain said, referring to the many incumbents who oppose the measure. “Send them a message. We’re going to vote for Prop 77 and we’re going to throw them out.”

Back on the bus, the governor headed toward Irwindale near Los Angeles. He will hit the Central Valley on Sunday with stops in Bakersfield and Oakdale before participating in another televised forum in Los Angeles at 5 p.m.

On Monday the governor will trade wheels for wings and fly around the state, including one so-far scheduled stop in the Bay Area, in San Ramon.



(c) 2005, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-05-05 2138EST


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