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Sep 10, 2008 - 03:00 PM

Palin As Arnold Sequel

by Jamie Court
On the issue of tactics alone, Carla Marinucci at the San Francisco Chronicle filed a fascinating article tonight comparing the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Palin as champions of the mantles of change and reform, and in particular their media management strategy.

Californians have seen this movie before: An "outsider" and "reformer" arises to acclaim, promising to sweep government clean.

Then comes a frantically short run to the election, characterized by impressive photo ops and rare opportunities to question the candidate.

Meanwhile, the media becomes the target of campaign scorn for taking a closer look at the rising star.

That was the script when a political outsider named Arnold Schwarzenegger was a surprise candidate for governor of California in a 2003 recall that transformed him overnight from movie star to candidate to leader of the world's seventh-largest economy.

And by the time Schwarzenegger ran for a full first term, Steve Schmidt - the political guru now managing the GOP presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin - had the former bodybuilder's image and political profile under firm control.

Political observers in the Golden State now watching the political rocket ship of the Alaska governor say there's a sense of deja vu in what some are calling Palin's "Mrs. Smith goes to Washington" scenario.

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan nonprofit that does not endorse or oppose candidates for office. What's particularly interesting in the realm of history and political accountability strategy is Team Arnold's admissions about how it managed the media under the intense scrutiny the press placed on revelations about the would-be-governor.

Those who followed the first Schwarzenegger campaign will recognize another familiar theme: attempts to back the media off from looking too closely at the candidate and the maverick record.

For Palin, that could mean more trouble in further examinations of the trooper-gate case and her record as governor and mayor of Wasilla - including support of tax increases and earmarks for her own state and questions about whether she really said "thanks, but no thanks" to that "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska and how she billed her state for travel expenses for herself and her children.

Already, campaign surrogates like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin have leveled charges of media sexism and piling on because of those stories.

Sean Walsh, a senior adviser to Schwarzenegger, said he's not surprised that the media has been the focus of criticism from the campaign.

"The bottom line is, you've got to have a reason to keep the fire burning," said Walsh. "When Arnold Schwarzenegger was running, we deflected the attack ... and took the media on. It's a tried-and-true strategy, and the public responds to it ... you jujitsu it and it works - I made no apologies for it."

Stutzman acknowledges that it was "similar with Arnold also - (the idea that) 'you newspaper people go away' ... and the McCain-Palin campaign is in the similar position."

"You could talk over the head of the media in environments that the media doesn't control," he said. "But you can only do that for so long."

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