The top candidates in the California governor’s race debated Wednesday night, but voters may not have noticed that Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Republican State Sen. Tom McClintock, or Green Party candidate Peter Camejo were even there. That’s because the fireworks came from the heated exchanges between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington, with the actor and the TV pundit departing from scripted answers to previously submitted questions in order to trade insults with each other.
Even before Wednesday’s event, Schwarzenegger had taken heat from his rivals for agreeing to participate only in the one debate where the candidates would learn the questions in advance. But he seemed able to respond to spontaneous hits from his opponents. When Huffington started to call him on his ties to big business, he retorted by noting her own recent controversial tax return, in which she claimed that business losses had reduced her tax liability to zero. ”Your personal income tax had the biggest loophole. I could drive my Hummer through it,” he said. At one point, he responded to her fury by suggesting she drink ”more decaf.” When she responded to a Schwarzenegger criticism by raising the issue of the sexist remarks he’s made in interviews over the years — ”This is the way you treat women; we know that,” she said, drawing cheers from the audience — he retorted by saying she’d make a good villain in one of his movies. ”I just realized I have a perfect part for you in ‘Terminator 4,”’ he said. With the election scheduled for Oct. 7, one or both of them may get the opportunity to act in ”Terminator 4” sooner than they expect.