Arnold Schwarzenegger's seemingly unassailable campaign to become Governor of California was thrown into chaos for the second time in two days yesterday after he was quoted as expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler.
With his candidacy already reeling from allegations that he had groped, humiliated and harassed women at various times during the past 25 years, Mr Schwarzenegger was pushed even farther on the defensive just four days before the extraordinary election on whether to recall and replace California's unpopular Governor, Gray Davis.
"All I can tell you is that I despise everything Hitler stood for. I despise everything the Nazis stood for ... everything the Third Reich stood for," Mr Schwarzenegger told ABC News, the organisation that unearthed a transcript taken from the out-takes of the 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron.
Denying admiration for Hitler is not something any candidate wants to be doing this close to an election and the furore was a measure of how the already wild, unprecedented and unpredictable campaign to toss out Governor Davis was being turned upside down again.
According to the transcript, Mr Schwarzenegger was asked whom he most admired and responded: "It depends for what. I admired Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education up to power. And I admire him for being such a good public speaker."
Mr Schwarzenegger is also quoted fantasising about the adulation enjoyed by any powerful leader, dictator or democrat. "The feeling like Kennedy had, you know, to speak to maybe 50,000 people at one time and having them cheer, or like Hitler in the Nuremberg stadium," he is recorded as having said. "And have all those people scream at you and just being in total agreement with whatever you say."
Just three days ago although it now seems an eternity Mr Schwarzenegger was riding high in the opinion polls, smiling his irrepressibly toothy smile and talking as though next Tuesday's election was already in the bag. "I am not here here today to talk about campaigning, I'm here today to talk about governing," the Hollywood superstar told an adoring crowd of Republican supporters at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday.
That, though, was before a front-page piece in the Los Angeles Times detailing the allegations of six women who said Mr Schwarzenegger groped, harassed and humiliated them.
Suddenly, the euphoria of seemingly inevitable victory surrounding Mr Schwarzenegger has been replaced by chaos, recriminations and blind panic. The National Organisation of Women urged the Los Angeles district attorney's office to consider pressing sexual harassment and battery charges against him. Women up and down the state were organising seven separate rallies to denounce the man they call "Governor Groper" and demand he withdraw his candidacy.
Even before the Hitler headache, Mr Schwarzenegger had already gone into full damage limitation mode, issuing a quick statement in response to the LA Times story that was part denial and part apology for what he said was occasional bad behaviour around women. He also cancelled a breakfast with California businesswomen in Los Angeles yesterday morning. His staff cited a scheduling clash but opponents were in no doubt he was afraid of facing a potentially hostile female audience.
Jodi Evans, of the anti-Schwarzenegger feminist group Code Pink, commented: "I find it very insulting that it took being outed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times to issue an apology. If he was really sorry he wouldn't have kept behaving in this way. This is three decades of this man's behaviour. This is his character." The Hitler transcript, meanwhile, was discovered in a book proposal written in the mid-1990s by George Butler, the director of Pumping Iron and a close confidant of the movie star who had previously denied the existence of any admiring Hitler references.
In the proposal Mr Butler describes his friend as having been a "flagrant, outspoken admirer of Hitler" in the 1970s and writes that he had seen him playing "Nazi marching songs from long-playing records in his collection at home". The actor, he added, "frequently clicked his heels and pretended to be an SS officer".
In the current heady atmosphere, the revelation is pure political dynamite. Mr Schwarz-enegger's friends insist his reported remarks about Hitler had nothing to do with anti-Semitism or war-mongering or an abhorrence of democracy but rather an expression of his life-long fascination with power in all its forms. There is ample evidence to suggest they may be right but it is not clear whether the electorate has the time or the patience to absorb the important distinction.
Mr Schwarzenegger has made little secret of his obsession with strong leaders, including the desire to become one himself. In a segment of Pumping Iron that was kept in the finished film, he says: "I was always dreaming about very powerful people dictators and things like that. I was just always impressed by that ... People could be remembered for hundreds of years, you know even Jesus for thousands of years remembered." In his autobiography, Education of a Bodybuilder, he made no apologies for a thrusting personal ambition that some observers feel borders on megalomania. "Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way," he wrote.
How that attitude plays into his political outlook is something that has provoked controversy for years.
Mr Schwarzenegger was heavily criticised in the 1980s for his public support for Kurt Waldheim, the former SS officer accused of wartime atrocities who went on to become president of Austria. Mr Schwarzenegger allowed his image to be used in Mr Waldheim's election materials, and has been quoted as having toasted him at his 1986 wedding.
In Hollywood, Mr Schwarz-enegger has worked hard to live down his policeman father's past as a Nazi, donating lavishly to the anti-Nazi Simon Wiesenthal Centre. It is also clear from the many biographies of the star flattering or otherwise that his relationship with his father was extremely difficult. Mr Schwarzenegger did not return to Austria for his father's funeral in 1972.
It is far from clear what effect all these controversies will have on Tuesday's election. The latest opinion poll, published yesterday but taken before the Los Angeles Times groping story appeared, showed him way ahead of his rivals to replace Governor Davis, and Governor Davis way behindReuse content