Schwarzenegger on offensive, denounces sex harassment claims

MERCED, Calif. -- Arnold Schwarzenegger went on the attack Saturday, denouncing the latest sexual harassment allegations made against him as untrue and charging that all of the 11th-hour allegations were an effort to "torpedo" his campaign for governor.

The Austrian-born candidate, also accused of expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler nearly 30 years ago, received support from a leader of a Jewish human rights organization and the man who trained the teenage Schwarzenegger as a bodybuilder, both of whom said the actor has championed tolerance.

The Hitler report led the Democratic National Committee to issue a resolution Saturday calling on Schwarzenegger to apologize. The candidate said he planned to ignore it, stating for the third consecutive day that he despises Hitler.

"They're trying to torpedo my campaign. They're trying to make me look bad out there so that people vote no," Schwarzenegger said during a stop in Clovis on Day 3 of his campaign bus trip across the state.

"Why has this not come out before?" he asked of allegations by 11 women that he groped or sexually harassed them.

"Why have they not called me? Why has no one said 'Arnold you went too far.' If someone said this to me I would apologize immediately. ... This is all about the politics, the dirty, dirty politics."

He also said that "the environment in today's politics is totally different on the subject of women, it is much more sensitive today." He said he will work to convince voters that "this is a different Arnold" and added he will be "extra careful ... even if there is any move from a female on my part."

In Merced, where he was joined by his wife, Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger joked briefly about the allegations, pulling away after a supporter at an In-N-Out burger stand hugged him. "Don't do it! Don't do it! Otherwise it will be in the paper again," he told her.

"I already knew I was voting for him anyways," Debra Vargas of Merced said after getting her hug.

As Schwarzenegger's bus was making its way across central California's agricultural heartland, Gov. Gray Davis was flying around the state with several big-name Democrats in a last-ditch effort to persuade people to vote no on the recall. Recent polls showed more than 50 percent of likely voters support the measure.

The other leading candidates to replace Davis, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, also were making appearances.

Much of the focus remained on Schwarzenegger, however, as he sought to get his campaign back on track after the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that six women claimed he groped or sexually harassed them between 1975 and 2000.

After the story was published, five other women came forward to report similar incidents, including two who said Friday the actor harassed them on the set of the 1988 film "Twins."

Another woman said she was an intern at CNN in the early 1980s when Schwarzenegger groped her buttocks and made untoward remarks about her anatomy as she was escorting him to a set.

Schwarzenegger, who apologized Thursday for having sometimes "behaved badly" around women, said those latest allegations were flatly untrue. He said he suspected the governor's supporters were behind them.

Davis has denied any connection to the allegations, and the Times has said none of the first six accusers were put in touch with the newspaper by any of Schwarzenegger's opponents. The others came forward after the first story broke.

The actor's campaign organized a news conference at his Santa Monica volunteer headquarters Saturday where spokesman Sean Walsh was joined by a Hollywood publicist and two "Twins" cast members to deny sexual harassment allegations. Walsh accused the Times of "irresponsible journalism" and bias. The Times denied the accusation.

"It is our job to give critical scrutiny to major candidates, and that is what we've done," said Martha Goldstein, vice president of communications for the Times. "We've published a number of critical articles about other candidates, including Gov. Davis. Voters should have the same information we have before Election Day and not after."

Schwarzenegger faced small groups of protesters throughout the day. At his last stop of the day, in Pleasanton, members of the feminist activist group Code Pink shouted "No groper for governor" throughout his stump speech.

While Schwarzenegger toured the state, Bustamante, McClintock and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo discussed the accusations against him during the final debate of the campaign, hosted by KPBS-TV at San Diego State University. They agreed in saying further investigation was needed.

"If he were a black man, he'd be in jail. If he was brown, he'd be in jail. If he were a poor white he'd be in jail," said Camejo in the most spirited exchange of the 90-minute debate. "What does it tell us about our society that a rich white person can do the type of things that he's alleged to have done? ... Just because he's wealthy and powerful he's above the law."

Meanwhile, Austrian gym owner Kurt Marnul told The Associated Press on Saturday that as a teenager Schwarzenegger helped break up neo-Nazi rallies at least twice.

"It's absurd. It's 100 percent wrong that he could have ever liked Hitler," Marnul said at his gym, where the walls are plastered with photographs of Schwarzenegger. The former world champion bodybuilder began training there when he was 15.

Transcripts from a book proposal by George Butler, who directed "Pumping Iron," the bodybuilding documentary that brought Schwarzenegger to mainstream attention, quoted the actor as expressing admiration for Hitler's public speaking abilities but not for what he did.

Butler issued a statement Friday saying the remarks were quoted out of context and that he'd never heard Schwarzenegger utter an anti-Semitic remark.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that if Schwarzenegger did express admiration for Hitler he should apologize. But he added that the actor has worked on the center's behalf for years, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars and speaking out in favor of its pro-tolerance programs.

"For the 20 years that I've known Arnold, I can say without reservations, he is not an anti-Semite, he is not a supporter of neo-Nazis or racists. It's simply preposterous to accuse him directly or indirectly of sympathies for Nazis," Hier said in a telephone interview Saturday from Jerusalem.

The Democratic National Committee resolution called on Schwarzenegger to apologize and for the Republican National Committee to reprimand the candidate. Schwarzenegger dismissed the move as "sleaze politics" and said he wouldn't respond to it.

"I despise everything that Hitler stands for," he said. "I hate the Nazis. Everything that was done during the second world war, I despise. I have no patience for any of this kind of stuff."

How the charges, coming days before Tuesday's recall vote, would affect the election's outcome was hard to gauge.

The Davis campaign said its internal polling showed support and opposition to the recall vote was running even after word of the allegations. The Schwarzenegger camp said its polls showed a slight movement in favor of Schwarzenegger. Before the remarks, polls showed the recall passing and Schwarzenegger leading the candidates to replace Davis.

The Oakland Tribune withdrew its endorsement of Schwarzenegger on Saturday, saying the sexual harassment allegations indicate "a pattern of recurring abuse and boorish behavior that in different circumstances could have led to assault charges."

Also Saturday, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts announced he was canceling plans to campaign with Schwarzenegger in California because of the "sideshow politics" that had come up in recent days.

"I still endorse my friend Arnold. He's the best choice to be governor of California," Romney said in a statement. "It's unfortunate the events of the last few days make it hard to focus on the issues that really matter, like jobs, the economy and reform."

In another example of the bizarre twists and turns the campaign is taking, a woman who arrived with a manila folder at a Schwarzenegger rally in Modesto and demanded to talk with the candidate about what she called a private legal matter was hustled away by Schwarzenegger's handlers as scores of reporters tried to speak with her.

"I've had a conversation with her. I have nothing more to say about it than that, other than she has not made any type of accusation or charge about Arnold," campaign spokesman Rob Stutzman said later.

One of hundreds of supporters who turned out at a farm near Clovis to greet Schwarzenegger's bus on Saturday said she suspected at least some of the sex allegations were true but that the nature of the last-minute attacks convinced her to vote for the actor.

"I was torn between him and McClintock but after these horrible stories coming out about Arnold at the last minute, I decided Arnold's my guy," said Shirley Folland, 60, of Fresno, who is a kindergarten teacher's aide.

At a women's forum in Oakland, Davis said Schwarzenegger has acknowledged mistreatment of women.

"Electing a governor who might have committed a crime is going to distract the state from the work it has to do," he said.


Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy and Seth Hettena contributed to this story.


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