By publicly acknowledging that he had
"behaved badly" with women over the course of his career, Arnold
Schwarzenegger unleashed criticism and controversy that managed to
engulf, at least temporarily, his effort to replace Gov. Gray Davis.
Schwarzenegger's comments came after an article published in Thursday's Los Angeles Times quoted six women who said they had been groped or fondled by the actor-turned-candidate between 1975 and 2000. The article also quoted a campaign spokesman denying that Schwarzenegger had mistreated women, and blaming the Democrats for planting the allegations.
But in front of hundreds of cheering supporters in San Diego on the first leg of a statewide bus tour, Schwarzenegger admitted he had misbehaved at times and apologized for "offending" anyone.
"Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful but now I recognize that I have offended people," Schwarzenegger said. "And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize because this is not what I'm trying to do."
Contain It and Move On
By apologizing quickly and moving on, Schwarzenegger moved smartly to contain the controversy and change the subject, observers said. But his admission of culpability also raised new questions about his veracity and character.
"This is not just philandering or adultery — this is stuff that people get fired for pretty regularly," said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at University of California, Berkeley. "If Arnold is saying he can grope women because people on movie sets play by a different set of rules, I don't know that people will buy that."
The Times story topped weeks of controversy over Schwarzenegger's history with women. Early in the recall campaign, an interview Schwarzenegger did with Oui magazine in 1977 boasting of a "gang bang" with other bodybuilders in Gold's Gym was widely publicized.
A Premiere magazine article from 2001 also resurfaced in which Schwarzenegger was depicted as a crude sexual predator.
Former Independent candidate Arianna Huffington complained bitterly about Schwarzenegger's treatment of her at a candidate's forum last week, and called it part of a pattern of treating women badly.
‘A Bit of Hypocrisy’
GOP strategist Allan Hoffenblum said the latest allegations, while reprehensible, were part of a history many Republicans had come to grips with long before Schwarzenegger entered the race.
And, he said, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment of President Bill Clinton had largely inoculated Schwarzenegger from heavy criticism.
"There's a bit of hypocrisy of all these Democrats who were so excited to see Clinton campaign for Gray Davis then complain about boorish behavior by Arnold Schwarzenegger," Hoffenblum said.
But Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked for Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal drew a sharp distinction between Schwarzenegger's behavior and Clinton's.
"People were critical of President Clinton's behavior — no one around him defended his conduct," Lehane said. "But there is an enormous distinction between groping and consensual acts."
Davis Camp Notably Quiet
Davis and his team were notably quiet Thursday amid the controversy swirling around Schwarzenegger. Davis himself sidestepped the matter at a campaign event in Los Angeles, and Garry South, a top Davis aide, pointedly refused comment.
"I saw the story when I got up this morning, and I'm not going to respond," South said.
Schwarzenegger supporters tried to make an issue of the story's timing Thursday, saying it was part of a plan by the Los Angeles Times to slow Schwarzenegger's momentum.
"What we saw in the L.A. Times today was not an attack on Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was an attack on every single one of us that wants to take back California," U.S. Rep. David Dreier, a Schwarzenegger adviser, told a crowd in Costa Mesa.
Times Editor: ‘An Easy Decision’
Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll said he expected criticism for publishing the story so close to the election, but "we weighed that against how I would feel and how our readers would feel if we concealed the information until after the election — and that made it an easy decision."
Given the timing and other considerations, Cain said it was unclear whether the controversy would help Davis, whose prospects from keeping his job had been growing dimmer before the Schwarzenegger controversy erupted.
"I have no doubt this will cost Arnold votes among women, but I don't know how men will react," Cain said. "Davis has to hope that socially moderate, socially progressive men who are unhappy with him will now question putting someone in office who behaves this way."
But Helen Grieco, Executive Director of California NOW, said the allegations would damage Schwarzenegger among both men and women voters.
"Men are going to say to themselves, 'how do I look at my wife in the face, my daughter in the face, my co-worker in the face, and go to the polls and vote for a man who would treat women this way?'" Grieco said.