Despite disagreements, conservatives embrace Schwarzenegger |

Despite disagreements, conservatives embrace Schwarzenegger

Laura Kurtzman
Oscar Hidalgo / The Associated Press / Gelia Crayton volunteers Thursday at a call center for the California Republican party in Woodland Hills.

GARDEN GROVE (AP) – Gelia Crayton is the picture of conservative California. She worships at the Crystal Cathedral, Orange County’s gleaming megachurch, and opposes abortion and gay marriage. She thinks illegal immigration is the scourge of the state.

Crayton’s hardline views are at odds with the moderation Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has gone out of his way to advertise this year, as he seeks re-election.

Yet on a recent Sunday after church services here, the 58-year-old real estate agent pledged to stay loyal to the governor “until he says, ‘Taxes are going to go up and welcome illegals.'”

Crayton’s pragmatism helps explain how Schwarzenegger has consolidated his party’s support this year, even as he has flouted many of its core beliefs.

He has angered social conservatives by hiring a lesbian Democrat as his chief of staff and upset fiscal conservatives by partnering with legislators to put the largest bond package in California history on the November ballot. He also crossed the business lobby by agreeing to raise the minimum wage, force prescription drug companies to offer discounts and cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite all this, as many as 85 percent of California Republicans tell pollsters they will vote for Schwarzenegger in November. Last year, when his popularity was at a nadir because of the special election, just 66 percent of Republicans were willing to say they’d vote for him.

Schwarzenegger’s celebrity helps him bend the rules of politics. Voters often say they feel they have a personal connection to him. Crayton, for example, cut the governor slack on account of his Democratic wife, Maria Shriver, who is a member of the Kennedy clan.

Crayton thinks Schwarzenegger, who supports abortion rights, is “playing politics” on abortion, and she wishes he were tougher on immigration. But she rationalizes his actions as necessary to cope with the pressure he gets at home.

“He’s got certain concessions he’s got to make because he’s got a family life, too,” she said.

Her friend Ruth Daugherty, who also was worshipping at the Crystal Cathedral, excused the governor’s moderate stance on immigration – and even his reluctance to send the National Guard to the border with Mexico – as a political necessity in a state like California, where Democrats dominate.

“I think he’s doing the best he can,” said Daugherty, 73, a retired banker who lives in Irvine, “because he can’t be as vocal about it as we are and get elected.”

There is an undercurrent of protest against the governor, particularly on immigration.

After Schwarzenegger said he was surprised at the “intensity of prejudice” toward illegal immigrants he encountered at a town hall meeting near San Diego, talk radio erupted.

In Los Angeles, KFI’s John Ziegler upbraided Schwarzenegger’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, who had gone on the air to try to contain the damage, for the governor’s election-year shift.

“He’s not a Republican and you know that,” Ziegler told Schmidt. “Because you know a real Republican can’t win statewide, so you and Maria have orchestrated this move to the left. Congratulations, but don’t deny it. Take credit for it.”

How much discontent over the governor’s moves this year filters down to the average voter is an open question.

In interviews throughout conservative Orange and Riverside counties, few voters even knew the governor’s position on immigration, much less the details of legislation or the inside workings of his staff.

And while most voters were angry about illegal immigration, almost none laid the blame at the governor’s feet.

“It’s not Arnold’s fault,” said Ken Mummert, 66, who was eating lunch at Costco in the Riverside County town of Temecula. “Immigration’s been a problem that’s been going on a long time.”

Still, Mummert, an evangelical Christian who is “somewhat retired” and writing his second book, said he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about voting for Schwarzenegger.

“I have to think about whether I’m going to vote at all,” he said. “I’m at the point where I think it’s a total waste of time.”

The prospect that conservatives might stay home is worrisome for Schwarzenegger. Analysts are predicting that President Bush’s unpopularity could hurt him in November if it discourages Republicans from voting.

California has 1.3 million more Democrats than Republicans. To win, Schwarzenegger needs to rally his Republican base, convert a few Democrats and win the majority of independents.

The state Republican party is promising a huge volunteer effort to get out its vote.

The governor’s campaign also is doing everything it can to scare Republicans into supporting the governor by tagging his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, a tax-and-spend liberal.

Those tactics may be working.

Crayton’s fiancé, Ken Sheppard, for example, has been angry at some of the things the governor has done this year, particularly his reluctance to comply with President Bush’s request to send National Guard troops to the border with Mexico.

“I don’t think he had any right to do anything against the president or say anything against the president,” said Sheppard, who is a real estate investor from Encino.

The governor balked at Bush’s request, saying the plan was ill-conceived. He only agreed to send the troops when the federal government agreed to pay for the deployment.

But Sheppard said he is supporting Schwarzenegger – and phone-banking for the Republican ticket – out of fear of what the Democratic alternative might bring.

In the end, he said, his vote for Schwarzenegger, while solid, was more a negative than a positive.

“I personally believe if the other side were going to win, we would be hit with higher taxes for years and years and years,” he said. “It’s not like voting for Arnold. It’s voting against Angelides.”

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