In California, a House Divided Stands Strong
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER, New York Times
LOS ANGELES — It is one thing to disagree about politics with your spouse at a backyard barbecue. It is quite another to do it in front of the 38 million people of California, with apparent and abundant passion.
Of all the supporters behind the two presumptive nominees for president this year, none are quite as intriguing as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has thrown his support behind Senator John McCain, and the governor’s wife, Maria Shriver, a Democrat and vocal backer of Senator Barack Obama.
The lawn of their Brentwood home has dueling campaign signs. The breakfast table has become a casual debating society. Ms. Shriver is even threatening to bring a life-size cutout of her preferred candidate into the house, something the governor has seen her do in other elections. “When one of the candidates screws up,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said of the cutouts, “the kids carry them outside.”
The four Schwarzenegger children — who range in age from 10 to 18 — have already taken sides, though only one of them, Katherine, is actually old enough to vote. She favors Mr. Obama.
Advantage, Ms. Shriver.
“I think there are great benefits to having kids grow up understanding that we do not live in a one-party system,” Ms. Shriver said. “That there are two ways at looking at an issue. To be patient, and to compromise, those are good lessons not just in politics but for life. I grew up believing there was only one way to think. There isn’t.”
It all began this winter when Mr. Schwarzenegger announced his allegiance to Mr. McCain, unsurprisingly, and then Ms. Shriver showed up — quite surprisingly — on the stage at a rally for Mr. Obama in Los Angeles proclaiming her support along with other members of the extended Kennedy family just days later.
On Super Tuesday, the governor awoke to a lawn full of Obama signs. Seeking fair and balanced landscaping, he immediately called his aides to procure an equal number of McCain signs. (Perhaps not the easiest request on the day when the Republicans were looking to deliver the state to Mr. McCain. Also not one, under the circumstances, to be farmed out to the first lady’s office.)
While voters here are long accustomed to the Republican governor and his Kennedy-family wife, the spectacle of them avidly supporting two different presidential candidates is likely to become even more pronounced to the rest of the nation as the campaign enters the general election phase, with both playing an active role.
He and she are likely speakers at each party’s convention this summer. Ms. Shriver has been mentioned as a possible chairwoman for Mr. Obama’s California effort, and is considered to be one of its most endearing assets in the state.
“Maria Shriver is a powerful advocate for Senator Obama,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, in an e-mail message. “We’ll be thrilled to have her campaign for us whenever she can in the coming months. And we remain hopeful that Californians will side with their first lady in November, even if the governor himself does not.”
For his part, the governor, who is negotiating a tremendously difficult budget and other pieces of legislation, is expected to lend a hand to the McCain effort as Election Day draws near. He attends many fund-raisers for Mr. McCain, off the radar, and is desired by a McCain team desperate to draw in the moderate voters that Mr. Schwarzenegger has attracted.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger is a tremendous asset to the Republican party,” said Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to the McCain campaign and the governor’s former communications director, “especially at a time where there is so much emphasis on independents and disaffected Democrats.”
Ms. Shriver has carefully managed to maintain her professional and political identities since becoming the first lady of California when Mr. Schwarzenegger won the recall election in 2003, reluctantly giving up her job in television news. “Being involved in this administration required me to stretch and to be open minded,” she said.
Like all things Arnold and Maria, the arrangement is far from conventional, but it seems to work.
“Maria called me from Palm Springs one day where she was at a horse show with our daughter and said, ‘I’ve got this thing in my mind that I want to go to U.C.L.A. for Obama, is that O.K. with you?”‘ Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “I said: ‘Do it! You have to do it!’ ”
Ms. Shriver went straight to the airport and hopped on a plane, her hair still a bit mussed from the horse show, and gave a moving speech. “I thought, if Barack Obama was a state, he’d be California,” Ms. Shriver told the roaring crowd. “Diverse. Open. Smart. Independent. Bucks tradition. Innovative. Inspirational. Dreamer. Leader.”
Mr. Schwarzenegger said he felt no compunction about her proclaiming his state for her candidate.
“People get it,” he said. “People know that she is not for Bush even though she is sitting there at the convention with me.”
Time spent around the kitchen table is sometimes enlivened by discussions on topics ranging from Mr. Obama’s pastor to the fuel tax (because nothing says, “Please stop hiding the peas under your napkin,” like a good gas tax riff) and gender issues. “The girls were for Hillary, and now they are with Obama,” the governor said. “The boys are more with McCain.”
It is a relationship that gives hope to other mixed marriages.
“Clearly we made out better as a party,” said Emily DeRose, the spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, who is newly married to a Republican supporter of Mr. McCain. “I love Maria Shriver, I read her book, and I just really admire her. Him, well, I like his movies.”