The Digital Journalist
With The "Running Man" on the "Total Recall" Bus Tour
October 2003

by Justin Sullivan

I have always wanted to photograph a candidate on a campaign tour, but I never thought I would end up on the "California Comeback Express" with gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, you heard me correctly, the former body builder turned action movie star could officially be called the "Running Man" as he attempted to replace California governor Gray Davis in an historic recall election. With less than one week left until the October 7th election, Ahhnold set out on a five-day bus tour and fly-around stumping throughout California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The tour kicked off in San Diego where hundreds of supporters jammed into the San Diego Convention Center to see Arnie hop on his bus. After a short speech and an apology to the crowd for his alleged sexual misconduct, a giant curtain dropped revealing a custom tour bus adorned with a huge mug-shot of the actor on the side. After a doing a quick lap around the convention hall, waving from the open door to the Twisted Sister song "We're Not Gonna Take It," the tour was on its way.

As we headed north in a caravan of six buses, I wondered if Arnold had planned on running for governor years ago and would only star in movies with titles relevant to an election. The two lead buses, occupied by Arnold and his VIP's, were named after his action films "Running Man" and "Total Recall", how ironic is that? Hollywood could not have scripted this any better. The four media buses were simply called "Predator."

Our first real stop of the day was in Costa Mesa, California. Thousands of people were corralled into a ring of metal barriers. They cheered and chanted "Arnold, Arnold, Arnold" as our buses pulled in, thinking that the man of the hour had arrived. To their disappointment, it was only the 200 media types that filed off. The chanting stopped.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The media access at this first event was pretty decent, but the events over the next few days would prove challenging. With limited space in the buffer and heavy presence of pseudo secret service-type agents guarding Arnold, the options were simple: fight your way through the crowd to get up the stage, risk missing the whole event to maybe be escorted onto the stage, or shoot from one of two risers. The only problem with the risers was when we arrived to an event, local media had already filled all of the spots. It all worked out in the end, but you really needed to do quite a bit of negotiating to get into position. Once you were there, you were stuck. The other access that everyone wanted, but never got, was going with Arnold on his bus and he never once hopped on one of the "Predator" media buses. Although, if you closed your eyes, it sounded like he was there since everyone loved to try and master the actor's accent.

No matter what city or small town we stopped in, every rally was very scripted. Occasionally, there would be a few minor changes, but for the most part, it was pretty much the same. The Twisted Sister song would come on, fans would cheer, Arnold would walk on stage with his huge smile, give the thumbs-up, give a little speech with his compelling Austrian accent, toss out one-liners like "Terminate Davis" and "Hasta la Vista Car Tax", throw some campaign t-shirts to the crowd while making his way back to the bus, and smack hands with the folks pressed up against the stage. It never really changed, although many of us hoped that they would stop playing the loop tape of that Twisted Sister song. It still lingers in my brain.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The caravan of buses rolled into Sacramento, the final destination, late on the third day of the tour. The big finale of the four-day bus tour was to take place on the steps of the State Capitol. Ahhnold was scheduled to parade down the Capitol Mall on a motorcycle, but the plan was abandoned at the last minute for security reasons. Instead, the two Schwarzenegger buses led a procession of trucks, motorcycles and tractors. It was a beautiful day, very warm, but as Schwarzenegger walked off the bus, he wore a black campaign jacket zipped up tight. It was rumored that he was wearing a bullet proof vest.

The rally was huge, thousands in attendance with Join Arnold signs. Arnold pumped up the crowd by giving a spirited speech while holding a broom pledging to "clean up Cal-ee-for-nyah!" The big highlight of the event was Dee Snider of Twisted Sister singing that song over and over again. Arnold even joined him on air guitar before leaving the stage.

Two days after the rally in Sacramento, California voters chose to recall Governor Davis and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger to govern the troubled state. The bus tour was quite a wild ride, but I think it will pale in comparison to what we're in for as governor-elect Schwarzenegger takes office. I just hope he will stop playing that Twisted Sister song.

© Justin Sullivan