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Arnold’s light in Gotham

Thesp/politician's appearance 'not a campaign trip'

Arnold Schwarzenegger may not have been shaking hands with California voters Monday when he showed up at a children’s charity event in Harlem–most outstretched hands belonged to 9-year-olds–but he may as well have been.

Handlers for California’s buffest gubernatorial candidate insisted Schwarzenegger’s appearance at the After-School All Stars event had been planned before his entry into elective politics, and that the visit was “not a campaign trip.” (Even so, it was broadcast on CNBC, MSNBC et al.)

But in the popularity contest, or circus, that has become the race to recall Gov. Gray Davis, showmanship — as opposed to, say, something that resembles a plan to reduce the state’s budget deficit — has become a crucial element. With 200 candidates scrambling for a piece of platform, photo ops are often more clearly defined than candidates’ opinions.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger kept his opinions to himself, refusing to answer questions from the press or even to mention his adopted home on the West Coast.

Instead he gave a young girl a Hummer bike. He smiled, waved, smiled some more.

Afterward, news analysts compared him to Ronald Reagan, and not because both men spent most of their time in Hollywood. When asked pressing questions by reporters while boarding the presidential helicopter, Reagan would often cup his ears and point to the whirring blades.

In New York Schwarzenegger can be let off the hook for ignoring politics; it may be considerably harder in California.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, election officials randomly drew letters to determine the order of the recall ballot and chose R first; the letters H, B and S, were drawn eighth, ninth and 10th, meaning that Arianna Huffington, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Schwarzenegger will be relatively near each other on most ballots.

The lottery-style alphabetical system will rotate names on 80 different ballots in each of the state’s Assembly districts.