Group sex claims come back to haunt Schwarzenegger

The rocky campaign by Arnold Schwarzenegger for California governor was shaken further yesterday when groups from left-wing feminists to religious conservatives expressed dismay at a interview from 1977 in which the young body-builder talked about "fags", smoking pot and participating in group sex.

The interview, in the defunct men's magazine Oui, appeared on the internet and promptly became the talk of the campaign circuit. Mr Schwarzenegger - who had a reputation at the time for making deliberately outrageous statements - referred to women as "chicks", discussed their prowess in bed and described going on the prowl for sex the night before body-building competitions.

At one contest, he said, "we had girls backstage giving head". On another occasion, a young black woman appeared naked at a gym and a group of men - including Mr Schwarzenegger - took her upstairs and jumped on her.

Right-wing radio and television hosts, who like to preach sexual abstinence before marriage, expressed disgust at Mr Schwarzenegger's behaviour. Gay groups, mean-while, strongly objected to his use of the word "fag", saying it was analogous to calling black people "nigger".

One lesbian advocate, Toni Broaddus, said that Mr Schwarzenegger's description of group sex was "very troubling, because it did seem close to rape. It just didn't sound like the kind of thing that you want the leader of the world's sixth-largest economy bragging about," she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mr Schwarzenegger was dogged by questions on the interview when he campaigned in Central Valley, California. "I have no idea what you are talking about," he told reporters three times, claiming he had "no memory of any of the articles I did 20 or 30 years ago".

But that was not the answer he gave hours earlier to a Sacramento radio show. He told KFBK: "Obviously, I have made statements that were ludicrous and crazy and outrageous and all those things, because that's the way I always was."

To assess the political damage the article will do is difficult. Mr Schwarzenegger was known not to have been a choirboy when he entered the race for the governorship. But the Oui article raises new questions on his appeal to conservative Republicans - the party's grass roots whose support he needs to win the recall election on 7 October.

The reaction from liberals, over his language as much as in response to his behaviour, also suggests there may be a threat to his standing with moderate voters.

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