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Arnold Bid Troubles Some Mexicans

Arnold Schwarzenegger's starring role in California's recall election has dented the bodybuilder-turned-superstar's image south of the border.

Some Mexicans worry that if Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wrests control of the state from Gov. Gray Davis, he will come down too hard on illegal immigrants and marginalize issues important to California's Latino community.

Others fear he will defeat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is the grandson of Mexican immigrants and is vying to become the state's first Hispanic governor in 174 years.

In other developments:

  • Peter Ueberroth's withdrawal from the recall election doesn't significantly change voter sentiments toward other gubernatorial candidates in the California recall race, according to a poll.
  • Declaring he wants to become an expert on education, Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger made his first Bay area public appearance Wednesday at an education summit in San Jose.
  • A campaign watchdog agency is being asked to take action against Bustamante for illegally funneling excessive contributions through an old campaign account not bound by new limits and then transferring the money to a new account.
  • Las Vegas oddsmakers, America's Line, are predicting victory for Bustamante, assigning him 4-5 odds. That means a gambler who bet $5 on Bustamante would get $4 if he wins. But the pros believe actor Schwarzenegger is just behind, and are giving him even odds. That's down from 7-5 odds they gave the actor on Aug. 21.

    Pundits across Mexico have lauded Bustamante while criticizing Schwarzenegger for his past support of a 1994 ballot measure meant to deny services to illegal immigrants.

    Schwarzenegger, an Austrian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 1984, has said he is the only candidate who truly understands the hardships newcomers to the United States can face. But he recently called for tighter controls on illegal immigration, drawing sharp criticism across Mexico.

    Reporting Schwarzenegger's call for a border crackdown last week, Leonardo Kourchenko, a morning anchor on the country's most-watched television network, Televisa, repeatedly remarked that the "Terminator" had forgotten his immigrant roots.

    The recall election is of special importance to Mexico because California has attracted more Mexican immigrants than any other state for decades.

    While Mexican politicians tend to avoid comment on U.S. elections, members of Mexico's Congress on Tuesday hosted a meeting at which Mexican residents of the United States warned that a Schwarzenegger governorship would be dangerous.

    As criticism of Schwarzenegger grows, so have calls for California voters to support Bustamante, the leading Democratic candidate. In Tijuana, the largest Mexican city bordering California, both major daily newspapers have endorsed Bustamante to replace Davis during the Oct. 7 election.

    But many in the city of 1.3 million across the border from San Diego — like most Mexicans elsewhere — say they have never heard of Bustamante and view the recall as a strange spectacle where Schwarzenegger is the key candidate.

    "The political popularity of this actor shows that in the United States, they've stopped distinguishing between reality and fiction," wrote columnist Heriberto Yepez in Mexico City's Reforma newspaper.

    Televisa, and Mexico's other major network, Azteca, have given limited coverage to the recall during nightly newscasts, except on Sept. 3, when members of a Mexican-American student group hit Schwarzenegger with an egg at California State University, Long Beach.

    "It's a Hollywood show," said Diego Chavez, a 23-year-old college student in Mexico City who has an uncle and several cousins working illegally on farms in California. "The election will not improve things for the people of California."

    Ruben Oliveras, the manager of a movie theater in the Mexican capital where Schwarzenegger's "Terminator 3" was a nine-week hit, said he didn't understand the recall.

    "They already have a governor," the 29-year-old said. "Voting again just so Schwarzenegger can have a campaign? That's not fair."

    Miguel Angel Rojas, manager of a Mexico City gym, called Schwarzenegger "50 percent hero and 50 percent dangerous man."

    "California is a very Latino state and for the Latinos, Arnold is a prototype of how to immigrate to the United States, live a successful life and marry a beautiful woman," Rojas said. "But he also supported anti-immigrant laws."

    California has not had a Hispanic governor since Romualdo Pacheco became the first California native to become governor in 1875.

    Hispanics — largely of Mexican heritage — make up 16 percent of California's electorate, catapulting immigration to the top of the political agenda as the recall election nears.

    Davis has peppered recent speeches with Spanish phrases and signed a law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, an initiative supported by many Hispanic voters in California as well as many Mexicans. Bustamante also has touted his Hispanic roots.

    Mexican immigrants with California citizenship have become very vocal ahead of the recall election, generally dividing their support between Bustamante and Davis, said Gaspar Rivera, a University of Southern California sociologist who specializes in immigrant political participation patterns.

    But he said Mexican-Americans have had trouble convincing relatives back in their homeland of the recall's importance because "elections only tend to be interesting to those directly affected by the outcome."

    "Here the question is, how do you take this seriously when you turn on the news and see that the Terminator, or this or that other celebrity, is running?" Rivera said. "It's become a 'this is something crazy happening in California' thing and that's it."

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