RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger cast himself Thursday as the "poster child" for immigrants and suggested that Democrats have no right to use immigration issues against him in his bid to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall election.
"I don't need to get a lesson from anyone else about immigration because I've been there," the Austrian-born actor said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Whereas other candidates are maybe sons of immigrants, but I'm the true immigrant, OK? So let's just make that clear."
Schwarzenegger added that he was referring to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only major Democrat among candidates to replace Davis if the governor is recalled.
Bustamante's campaign has sought to link Schwarzenegger to anti-immigrant stances, pointing to his opposition to a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, his support for Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative that sought to deny some services to illegal immigrants, and his campaign staffers who worked for former Gov. Pete Wilson, a supporter of Proposition 187.
Asked if he believes those tactics could scare off Hispanic voters, Schwarzenegger replied, "Some, absolutely, and I want to stress over and over that there is no one that is more sympathetic toward the situation than I am. I know exactly what an immigrant goes through."
While praising Wilson he also asserted that they don't share all the same views.
"I am not Wilson. Wilson is Wilson and Arnold is Arnold," he said.
Schwarzenegger was interviewed as he campaigned for voter registration in Riverside, part of the growing inland region east of Los Angeles. Earlier in the day his campaign said it was returning a $2,500 donation from a law enforcement union that ran counter to Schwarzenegger's pledge not to accept donations from Indian tribes or unions.
The donation from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs was listed on campaign finance records posted Wednesday on the secretary of state's Web site, but the Schwarzenegger campaign said the check came unsolicited through a volunteer and was never cashed.
"Before it went into our account we realized that there is a conflict of interest there, that we really don't want to take any money from unions," Schwarzenegger told a press conference.
When Schwarzenegger entered the race he said he did not need to take money from anyone. But he subsequently accepted large checks from people and businesses with interests in Sacramento. Seeking to clarify his position, he said Thursday that he never meant to say he wouldn't take money from anyone.
"It was my mistake because I was not articulate enough," he said.
Pressed later to explain his policy of accepting money from wealthy donors and businesses but not from unions or tribes, Schwarzenegger told the AP: "I don't have to sit with those guys across the table and negotiate. With the Indians, with the gaming tribes, you do. With the unions, you do."
He added, "I think that we have to start somewhere with that rule because otherwise you just end up receiving huge amounts of money."
Seeking to explain his positions on immigration matters, he said: "Of course, someone who has struggled and waited for his citizenship ... of course I am going to be looking at other people that all of a sudden just want to get that in a different way maybe than anyone else."
He recounted coming to America from Austria with little money, working as a bricklayer and knowing so little English that someone had to translate for him the comments of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey during the 1968 presidential campaign.
"No one is more immigrant than I am. I am the poster child for immigrants," Schwarzenegger said.
Turning to challenges facing him within his own party, Schwarzenegger expressed confidence that Republicans who believe he is not conservative enough will eventually throw their support to him.
"I think that in the end it comes down to who can win, and I think that they know that I am a very inclusive person, that they will have someone there who will listen," he said.
Schwarzenegger, whose challenges within the GOP come from state Sen. Tom McClintock and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, issued a challenge to Republicans who do not support him.
"The question they have to ask themselves is: Do they want to keep Gray Davis in office or do they want to replace him with his twin brother, Cruz Bustamante, or do they want to have new blood in there, and someone that would be sympathetic to their causes?"
Schwarzenegger also responded to criticism that he has not offered enough specifics on issues. He repeated his assertion that the public doesn't want to hear about details.
"The mass wants to hear one thing and wants to see one thing: Do I trust this guy? Does he have answers? How does he handle himself with the media? How does he handle himself out there? And this is someone that I can rally behind him and say, yes I want to go with this guy, he's bringing me hope.
"And that's what I want to bring to the table here, not the details. ... Everyone in Sacramento will have more details than I have, but I know exactly what needs to be done -- that we have to stop spending, we have to stop taxing people, we have to stop putting burdens on businesses."