Schwarzenegger loses hard man image to soften up US voters

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The Independent US

Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time immigrant bodybuilder, Governor of California and rock star of the Republican universe, last night made his debut on the national political stage as his party made an open pitch for moderate and independent voters.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time immigrant bodybuilder, Governor of California and rock star of the Republican universe, made his debut on the national political stage last night as his party made an open pitch for moderate and independent voters.

"America is back," the Terminator-turned-Governator told the party's convention, in a line recalling his old movie catchphrase of "I'll be back". He praised George Bush for his "perseverance, character and leadership" in a time of war and terrorism.

But, on a night devoted by organisers to "People of Compassion", and in which he shared the limelight with the first lady, Laura Bush, the Austrian Oak used his own life story to promote his adopted Republicans as the party of the American dream.

Mr Schwarzenegger said he became a Republican the moment he heard fromer President Richard Nixon speak during the 1968 election campaign. "He was talking about free enterprise, lowering taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air," he said. He then proclaimed his faith in the US economy, dismissing pessimists as "economic girly men" ­ a repeat of the insult he hurled at his Democratic critics in the Californian legislature earlier this summer.

"I want other people to get the same chances I did, the same opportunities," he told cheering delegates. "And I believe they can. That's why I believe in this country, that's why I believe in this party and what's why I believe in this president," he said, in excerpts released of his speech, which gave a national TV audience a first long look at an actor-turned-politician whose success in his first 10 months on office has surpassed most expectations.

The tone last night could not have been more different from Monday. Then, the theme was the "war against terror," Iraq, and the contrast between the resoluteness of George Bush and the alleged wobbliness of John Kerry, all under the emotional banner of 11 September 2001. Dropping every courtesy, Rudolph Giuliani, who was Mayor of New York at the time of the World Trade Centre attacks, went for the political jugular, accusing Mr Kerry of "making it the rule to change his position". To peals of laughter, he cited the "Two Americas" speech made by the vice-presidential challenger, John Edwards, "so that John Kerry can agree with both of them".

Echoing his party's contempt for "old Europe", Mr Giuiliani had many of the 2,500 delegates booing as he berated European countries for "appeasement" in the face of "intimidation" by terrorists. Likening Mr Bush to Winston Churchill, he spoke of how West German authorities quickly released three terrorists involved in the attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, drawing another round of boos.

Earlier, John McCain, the Arizona senator, mounted an impassioned defence of Mr Bush's decision to invade Iraq, eliciting thunderous cheers as he referred to "a disingenuous film maker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace". As the applause continued, Michael Moore was forced to doff his red baseball cap in mock acknowledgement of the derision pouring on his head.

Last night, the President declared the war on terror was "one that we will win", as he and senior Republicans scrambled to explain his comment the previous day that victory might not be possible. Several times, addressing veterans at the American Legion convention in Nashville, Mr Bush spoke about winning the war on terrorism: "We meet today at a time of war for our country; a war we did not start, yet one that we will win," he said. If America seemed weak or uncertain, the world faced tragedy. "This will not happen on my watch."

Mr Schwarzenegger, however, did not dwell on matters of war and peace. Instead, he focused on his own background as a foreigner who arrived in the US 35 years ago and rose to the top of his trade, first in Hollywood, then in politics, as governor of America's wealthiest and most populous state.

An advocate of gun control and abortion rights, and an opponent of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as endorsed by the convention manifesto, Mr Schwarzenegger is a social moderate like Mr Giuliani, out of step on "values" issues with the conservatives who dominate the Republican party.

But, like Mr McCain, he possesses a rare appeal across the political spectrum. For now at least, he has the approval of a large minority of Democrats in his home state, as well as by a majority of Republicans. Like Mr McCain, he is attractive to independents and moderates, who may yet tip the election, according to an ABC/ Washington Post poll yesterday.

Anxious not to upstage Mr Bush, or Vice-President Dick Cheney, who speaks tonight, Mr Schwarzenegger has kept a low profile in New York. But the very presence of Mr Schwarzenegger, a star by any standards, was guaranteed to boost the convention's TV ratings.