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Schwarzenegger aide to Fred's rescue

August 30, 2007 | 11:39 am

Todd Harris may be just the prescription for Republican Fred Thompson's struggling, presumed, when-is-he-going-to-announce presidential campaign.  After all, the 36-year-old Harris brings to his new job as the Thompson camp's communications director a resume that includes assisting a politician best known to voters as an actor: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Times reporter Joe Mathews recalls that just a few weeks into Schwarzenegger's 2003 gubernatorial campaign, the candidate's wife, Maria Shriver (who, like Thompson's spouse, Jeri, is a stunning, very-involved-in-politics mate), asked well-known GOP consultant Mike Murphy to come in and take charge of an effort that she saw as flawed.  Murphy brought along Harris, who was then spinning for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

It was a homecoming for Harris, who's from Walnut Creek in Northern California.  And he helped craft a strategy that just may come in handy for Thompson.  Schwarzenegger and his aides skillfully used criticism of his celebrity candidacy by traditionalists in media and political circles to help his cause.  In a clever bit of political jujitsu, they insisted that the scorn directed at the Austrian actor -- and his refusal to play by the rules of campaign scheduling and access -- showed that he was a different kind of politician who could change California.

After Schwarzenegger won the governorship in the historic election that bounced the incumbent, Democrat Gray Davis, from the job, Murphy set up an office for his new consulting firm, DC Navigators, across the street from the Capitol in Sacramento.  He hired Harris to run it, and the consultant developed a reputation as an accessible operative who, Mathews reports, also was a skilled amateur photographer and an avid wine collector.

Harris served as spokesman and strategist for the governor's many ballot campaigns, including the ill-fated special election in 2005 when a raft of initiatives backed by Schwarzenegger were rejected.  The strain of that campaign showed in its final days when Harris went toe-to-toe in front of television cameras with Warren Beatty.  The actor was trying to crash an invitation-only Schwarzenegger rally in San Diego and Harris turned him back (though he did pose for a photograph in which Beatty pretended to put the aide in a chokehold).

Schwarzenegger brought in a new political team after the initiative debacle, and Harris was out.  He relocated to Washington, where he tackles his new challenge.

An ABC News story posted today outlines the hurdles that await him.  In a nod to Harris' California roots, here's a line from it that he can relate to: "But since the heady days of late spring, when the Fred Thompson fever seemed to infect the GOP, Thompson's pre-campaign has been more 'Gigli' than 'Gone With the Wind.' "

(For those needing a reminder about how dispiriting the "Gigli" reference is for Thompson backers, go here.)

-- Don Frederick