Wednesday, September 24, 2003
THE DEBATE NEWS FROM SACBEE(if anyone missed it live)
Gubernatorial candidates spar in biggest debate of recall election- (Published September 24, 2003) The five top candidates in the recall election sparred in a spirited debate Wednesday that occasionally devolved into personal attacks as Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to fight off criticism with jabs of his own. The debate, just 13 days before voters will decide whether to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and who will replace him if he is recalled, was much anticipated as the one candidate forum Schwarzenegger agreed to attend. He was the focus of much of the fire during the 90-minute forum, but his voice managed to rise above the din at times to shoot off a one-liner, often aimed at his chief opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Bustamante tried to avoid being drawn in while emphasizing his own working-class background and support for Democratic programs. Schwarzenegger's top Republican opponent, state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, played to his conservative base, repeating his pledge not to raise taxes and noting he was the only one on stage who was anti-abortion. Sharp exchanges between Schwarzenegger and independent Arianna Huffington dominated some of the forum, and after the debate Huffington angrily accused Schwarzenegger of treating her differently because she was a woman and said he'd made his attitudes toward woman an issue in the campaign. Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Peter Camejo stayed above the fray, saying, "I'm trying to be respectful to everyone here." Throughout the debate, moderator Stan Statham of the California Broadcasters Association had to coax the candidates to stay on topic. At one point, he said he was dizzy from the quick, loud and aggressive exchange. "Cruz, Arianna, Cruz, Arianna, Cruz, Arianna," Statham said as Bustamante and Huffington parried on the issue of business and taxes. Going in, Schwarzenegger's opponents had complained the debate was overly scripted because the questions were released in advance. The stakes were high for the debate, which was carried live on national cable networks including CNN, MSNBC and Fox. One in five voters in a recent poll was undecided, and two-thirds said they would be swayed by the face-off, which was expected to be the most-watched debate in California political history. Questions ranged from balancing the budget to whether the car tax should be repealed to what to do about health care. There were few surprise answers as the candidates have all staked out positions on the major issues, but the heated discussion gave the leading candidates among the 135 on the ballot a chance to challenge each other. As the debate got underway, Schwarzenegger told Bustamante, "Remember one thing, in California we have a three strike system. You guys put wool over the people's eyes twice, the third time now you're out. On Oct. 7 you guys are out." Bustamante accused Schwarzenegger of ignorance about some issues, but rather than fighting back he shook his head and chided, "OK Arnold, OK." Beyond zingers that drew laughs, Schwarzenegger offered mostly familiar generalities about policy issues, not getting into the level of detail viewers heard from Bustamante and McClintock. McClintock took no shots at Schwarzenegger, and neither mentioned the issue paramount to GOP leaders: the possibility they will split the Republican vote and throw the election to Bustamante. Schwarzenegger said after the debate he looked forward to working with McClintock but McClintock, who has been pressured to drop out, said he was staying in the race. Bustamante came under attack for taking millions of dollars in Indian casino money. Schwarzenegger was criticized for supporting a divisive ballot initiative nine years ago that would have prevented services for the children of illegal immigrants. McClintock was told he had the facts backward on the economy, and independent Arianna Huffington was hit for barely paying income taxes. Huffington continuously targeted the Bush administration as the source of the state's problems, connecting Schwarzenegger to the president's policies. The actor quickly shot back that she was in the wrong place. "If you want to campaign against Bush, go to New Hampshire," Schwarzenegger said. The tension between the two peaked when Schwarzenegger began to cut Huffington off and she replied, "This is the way you treat women, we know that. But not now." Statham gave Schwarzenegger a chance to reply, providing an opening for one of several movie references he made. "I just realized that I have a perfect part for you in Terminator 4," he said to Huffington, as the audience laughed. Huffington said afterward that the movie comment was an offensive reference to a scene from "Terminator 3" in which Schwarzenegger's character stuffs a female terminator's head into a toilet. "I have never, in hundreds of debates, I've participated in been mistreated the way Arnold Schwarzenegger treated me tonight," she said. Schwarzenegger said the debate was "a fantastic experience" and described Huffington as "entertaining." At least 500 representatives from more than 100 media outlets around the world covered the debate, said the organizers at California State University, Sacramento. Schwarzenegger did not take part in debates held on Sept. 3 and Sept. 17. Although another major debate is set for Sept. 30, Schwarzenegger's campaign said the intention was to attend only Wednesday's. In his closing statement, Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican with liberal social views, asked voters to support what he said was the biggest goal he'd ever set for himself. "This one is a little bit bigger than I am," the former Mr. Olympia said. "I need your help." McClintock said, "I steer a straight course and I stay that course, no matter what the pressure." Bustamante reminded viewers of his small-town roots, growing up in government housing, the son of a barber who worked two other jobs to support a wife and six kids. "We learned the value of hard work," he said and pledged to protect working families. Camejo veered into national politics, criticizing the war in Iraq, and renewed his call for lower taxes for most workers and higher taxes on the wealthy, while also promoting a renewable energy policy. Huffington continued to promote her grass-roots campaign, attacking the "rise of the fund-raising machines" and saying that special interests were treating government like an ATM machine. "Only a truly independent leader can end our broken system," she said. The debate came as the campaign has taken a distinctly negative turn. Schwarzenegger broke a vow to stay positive and launched attack ads criticizing Davis, McClintock, Bustamante and the state's Indian tribes; Bustamante hit back with an ad saying Schwarzenegger lived on "Planet Hollywood." Davis told reporters before Wednesday's debate that he had not yet decided how to respond to Schwarzenegger's attacks. "I will tell you this: His ads say more about Mr. Schwarzenegger than they do about anyone else," Davis said. "He said he would not take special interest money, and now he's taking it. He said he would not run attack ads, now he has. He said he'd debate people, but now will only do it if he gets the questions in advance." -- The Associated Press
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