California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last spring told a group of gay Republicans what he thought of an effort to insert a ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s constitution: “a total waste of time.”
“I will always be there to fight against that, because it should never happen,” he told the meeting of Log Cabin Republicans.
So where is his star power now?
Schwarzenegger has yet to campaign to defeat the measure, or appear in an ad.
But the answer is not as simple as a politician not talking about the issue in the heat of election season — as Barack Obama and John McCain have largely done — rather, it’s a matter of whether Schwarzenegger would have a significant impact at this point.
Proposition 8 would restrict marriage in the state to that between a man and a woman, and recent polls show the measure even or leading. That’s instilled a sense of urgency among supporters of same-sex nuptials. Organizers of the No on 8 campaign can seldom go out in public without being hit by suggestions on how to better frame their message.
Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, would certainly add pizzazz and an instantly recognizable name to an advertising landscape cluttered with political spots. The first No on 8 spots introduced last month didn’t have the punch to match the Yes on 8 ads, which cast rather dire and misleading warnings yet carried an emotional pull.
Moreover, there’s the history that hangs over the same-sex marriage cause. As referenced in Gus Van Sant’s upcoming biopic “Milk,” one of Schwarzenegger’s predecessors and heroes, Ronald Reagan, played a significant role in defeating another anti-gay measure 30 years ago.
Reagan opposed the 1978 Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools, an effort inspired by Anita Bryant’s campaign in Florida. Reagan didn’t make an ad, but he didn’t object when his image was used in a spot. He was pictured with then-Gov. Jerry Brown, with the narrator saying, “These guys don’t agree on much, but they do agree on one thing …”
“Absolutely I think it was very important,” says Pacy Markman, who made that spot and is now partner in a Santa Monica ad firm. “It was very surprising to people — a conservative governor of a state, who was thinking of running for president.”
You can just imagine an Arnold No on 8 ad, perhaps humorous and irreverent in tone, warning about putting a ban in the state constitution. “It’s such a slam dunk,” says Markman, who is not working on the No on 8 campaign.
But Markman doesn’t know if Schwarzenegger would have the same cachet as Reagan, asense expressed as well by some of those working on the campaign. The thought is that because the governor’s popularity has fallen during the state budget crisis, time and resources would be better spent on other types of ads. Fearful of tipping their hand to the other side, the No on 8 campaign will say little about strategy or whether the governor will appear in a future spot, other than that they are reaching out to politicos of all stripes.
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, says they are looking to “the best messengers who can appeal to movable and undecided voters.”
Their latest ad features not Arnold but Jack O’Connell, California’s superintendent of schools, calling the Proposition 8 proponents ads “despicable.”
One of the governor’s reps, Julie Soderlund, says there has been “no formal request” to Schwarzenegger’s political team for him to appear in an ad. She says he hasn’t been available to campaign against Proposition 8 because he has been focused on the state’s fiscal crisis and on a redistricting initiative he supports. She didn’t rule out future involvement in the time remaining in the election.
But like opponents of the Briggs Initiative did with Reagan in 1978, the Governator’s image and statement could easily be crafted into an ad. What’s more, video exists of his meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans, and the group Republicans Against 8 has produced viral spots highlighting Schwarzenegger’s stance. Another spot is in the works.
Scott Schmidt, who has been leading some of the group’s efforts, also has doubts about Schwarzenegger’s influence. The more moderate “Schwarzenegger Republicans,” he notes, are perhaps “already with us,” while those on the far right are unlikely to be moved. And the Obama supporters who plan to vote Yes on 8 may not be within Arnold’s reach, either.
“By and large, what the (No on 8) campaign has said all along is that our best messengers are not politicians,” says Schmidt.
It’s a sobering reality: Arnold is now a politician more than former superstar, and with time running out, not even he may be able to save the day.