Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to make light of his cutting
remarks to Arianna Huffington at Wednesday's gubernatorial debate, said
Thursday he was only giving her a compliment when he told her, "I have a
perfect part for you in 'Terminator 4' " and "You need a little more decaf."
The GOP front-runner in the recall election wanted to talk about the
California economy and his platform at a town hall meeting in Los Angeles. But
Schwarzenegger was grilled by Fox Radio's Sean Hannity, the host of the
meeting, about Huffington's reaction to the actor's comments. She noted that
the female lead in "Terminator 3" was the cyborg who got her head pushed into
She called him a sexist, and he pretty much showed that he was.
"The fact of the matter is, it was a compliment. Because in 'Terminator' we
always had powerful women," Schwarzenegger responded. "If she takes it the
wrong way, it's not my fault."
But Huffington, sipping a Starbucks extra grande ("It's caffeinated," she
said with a smile), said Thursday that she has received an "absolutely
amazing" outpouring of reaction from women -- 3,000 e-mails so far.
"I had no idea that 'the woman thing' would be an issue," Huffington, an
independent candidate for governor, said in San Francisco. While his "Terminator" comment
was far from complimentary, it was Schwarzenegger's attitude that most
disturbed women voters, she said.
"He would not stop interrupting, and he expected me to be intimidated and
cowed," she said. By asking her to opt for decaf, "it's like saying, 'Calm
"There's a chord that was touched. A lot of women are feeling that when
they speak out, there are attempts to shut them up," Huffington said.
With just 12 days left in the campaign, the fallout from the incident has
forced Schwarzenegger's campaign into damage control and raised the
possibility that he might suffer on election day from a gender gap in which
California women voters have favored Democrats.
The debate's back-and-forth between Arnold and Arianna also may represent
one of those "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" moments in politics --
highlighting the elusive differences in outlook and experience that separate
male and female voters.
"A lot of men might have thought Arianna was competing for the Bitch Hall
of Fame," said Mark Petracca, UC Irvine professor of political science. "There
are lots of situations out there in the real world where men are dismissive of
any woman who is assertive."
But for women voters, "something like this exemplifies the worst
possibility for Arnold: Gov. 'Conan the Barbarian,' " he said, referring to
one of the actor's early films.
One of those women voters, Sandra Finegan, 51, of San Francisco, who e-
mailed The Chronicle, said she almost fell out of her chair when she heard the
exchange. She called it deja vu -- reviving all those times she'd been
outnumbered by men in professional meetings.
"I identified with her, the whole interrupting thing," she said. "I don't
remember (Arnold) doing it to any of the men."
Even some men agreed.
"She called him a sexist, and he pretty much showed that he was," David
Shawn, the 39-year-old president of a marble and tile company in San Rafael,
said of the exchange.
But that's not how Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, saw it.
"Oh, come on," said the moderate Republican, responding in mock horror when
asked about the exchange. "Arianna was getting in his face . . . She was
attacking him. He was just defending himself."
Sean Walsh, spokesman for Schwarzenegger, downplayed the matter.
"She was treated like any other candidate would be treated in a debate,"
Walsh said. "You can't go out and say you want to be one thing to the public -- then be shocked and appalled when you're treated as an equal."
Huffington was asked repeatedly Thursday about the matter on the campaign
trail, even as she attempted to introduce an initiative for public campaign
financing in Sacramento.
"Arnold was determined not to let me speak," she said. "I guess he thought
maybe he could get away with it, because he's gotten used to getting away with
And, as the only major female candidate for governor, Huffington advised
that "the women of California need to take a second look before they vote on
Not all women agreed, however -- and some took issue with Huffington's
combative manner in the debate.
"I thought Arianna definitely went a little bit over the top," said
Gwendolyn Majors, an independent voter from San Francisco and a contributor to
The Chronicle's Two Cents feature.
"When she said, 'that's how he treats women,' I thought that was completely
unnecessary. I liked her before, but after hearing that I thought she sounded
like an angry carpool mom."
But for the actor-turned-candidate -- whom the latest Field Poll shows is
suffering a 13-percentage-point gap among women voters -- the debate over the
debate threatens his attempts to woo the women's vote.
COMMENTS ABOUT WOMEN
For weeks, Schwarzenegger has wrestled with news stories about his
attitudes toward women, including those about a 1977 interview with Oui
Magazine in which he boasted of group sex and drug use -- stories he now says
were inflated to promote his body building and the movie "Pumping Iron."
But after his debate performance, politicos and voters again were talking
about Schwarzenegger's comments about "Terminator 3" to Entertainment Weekly.
"How many times do you get away with this, to take a woman, grab her upside
down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating
in there," the magazine quoted him as saying this year. "The thing is, you can
do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman; she's a machine! We
could get away with it without being crucified by who-knows-what group."
The campaign has tried to use Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, to
reach out to women voters. Speaking earlier this week to the Commonwealth Club
of California, Shriver said her husband "always treated me as an equal. He's
"There is no doubt in my mind that if Arnold wins this race, women will be
visible in every level of government. He will fight for equal pay for equal
work . . . he will talk about issues that affect women," she said.
But pollster Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California
said Schwarzenegger's comments this week could still affect his chances on Oct
"It wasn't an exchange that went well for Arnold," he said. "It didn't help
(him) with the efforts that all Republicans need to make -- convincing women
voters that he was a different type of Republican."
Chronicle staff writers Lynda Gledhill, James Sterngold, Zachary Coile, Peter Fimrite and Anastasia Hendrix contributed to this report.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle