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Shell shocked! Arnie ducks political debate

Arnold Schwarzenegger was once so eager to compete, he abandoned his army post to attend a bodybuilding tournament. He won the contest - but later spent a week in military prison.

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2003 00:12 GMT
The yolk's on him: a security guard wipes an egg from Arnold Schwarzenegger's shoulder

Arnold Schwarzenegger was once so eager to compete, he abandoned his army post to attend a bodybuilding tournament. He won the contest - but later spent a week in military prison.

But when it comes to political contests, the actor is showing no similar competitive desire. The Hollywood hard man is blatantly skipping the first in a series of debates on Wednesday.

The debates will feature Governor Gray Davis as well as the top candidates who want to replace him in the state's unprecedented recall election on 7 October.

Instead of sparring with his rivals, Schwarzenegger went among college students at California State University in Long Beach - where he was hit with an egg on the way to the stage.

The egg splattered his tan jacket but he wiped if off without pausing or breaking stride, handed the yolk-stained garment to an aide, and addressed the students in shirt-sleeves.

"This guy owes me bacon now," Schwarzenegger told reporters later, as he laughed off the incident.

Limited knowledge

Some political observers say the novice politician's strategy to avoid debating with his rivals could backfire. It might signal to the public that behind his celebrity status is a man with a limited knowledge of how government works.

"The Schwarzenegger campaign appears to be based on the assumption that they should not allow Mr Schwarzenegger to talk in anything other than very controlled environments," said Tim Hodson, director of the Centre for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

"The idea of this hermetically sealed celebrity in my judgment is not working," he said. "If he simply stays behind the bubble of celebrity status, he's going to lose."

"It seems Arnold cannot perform without a script"

Arianna Huffington,
election rival

Recall election rival Arianna Huffington said: "It seems Arnold cannot perform without a script." Davis said more was needed on the campaign trail than "recycled movie lines".

Since deciding to run as a candidate in the recall election against Davis, Schwarzenegger has made only a few public appearances and limited interviews to mostly friendly conservative radio programs.

Focused, not frightened

Of 15 debate invitations, the normally bold actor has agreed to participate in just one.

"There is a lot to be said about focusing on one debate," said his chief political strategist George on Wednesday. "A lot of times when you have multiple debates, none of them are very significant."

Away from the debating crowd -
tossing T-shirts to CSU students

"He's picked the largest, the biggest debate forum he
can." 

Gorton was referring to a 24 September debate sponsored by the California Broadcasters Association. That debate format may be better suited for an actor like Schwarzenegger as candidates will receive questions in advance.
 
Schwarzenegger has also made several television commercials, including two in which he calls for an audit of state spending to reverse deficit spending. He fails to mention that a non-partisan state office in Sacramento already audits the budget.

Competitive nature

Shunning so many debates appears counter to Schwarzenegger's own fiercely competitive nature that made him a muscleman star then one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors.

"The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer"

From Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder

"The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer," he writes in his 1977 memoir Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder.

Thus he concludes it was worthwhile to abandon his Austrian army unit briefly in 1965 to participate in his first major bodybuilding contest.

"I sat in jail for seven days with only a blanket on a cold stone bench and almost no food," he wrote. "But I had my trophy and I didn't care if they locked me up for a whole year; it had been worth it."

Source:
Reuters
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