SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Arnold Schwarzenegger, who calls himself the "people's governor" of California, took questions on Monday from members of the public not chosen by his staff -- a relatively rare event in a highly scripted ballot measure campaign.
During a live television appearance, the former actor and bodybuilder smoothly fielded polite questions on four ballot measures in a special election he has called for Nov. 8.
When one Democrat asked the Republican if his proposed initiative on redistricting was a partisan grab for power, Schwarzenegger quickly turned to humor.
"I think you should get an acting job. I like the way you do my accent, very good," the Austrian-born governor said, referring to the man's pronunciation of the word 'California.' "Many people have tried it, but you do it perfectly, really."
He then said no power grab was under way and added he had upset both Republicans and Democrats with his plan to change the way California draws up its legislative districts.
At another point, he mocked the introduction of questions from the audience, which included giving marital status. "It sounds a little like a dating service here," he said.
Although a masterful campaigner, Schwarzenegger has typically limited his appearances to conservative radio talk shows and handpicked friendly audiences, some of which are easily prompted to chant: "Yes on 74, 75, 76 and 77."
The numbers refer to four initiatives that could extend the period before teachers receive tenure, limit unions' political contributions, give the governor new powers over spending and change the way election districts are chosen.
Schwarzenegger's campaign has generated strong labor union and Democratic opposition as well as protests outside many venues at which he appears. Amid relentless television advertising against his favored initiatives, Schwarzenegger's popularity has fallen sharply this year.
"That's not the Arnold that I am, that you see in those television commercials," he said at the event aired on KTVU Channel 2 and co-sponsored by the Contra Costa Times, "Some times when I listen to those TV ads, I'm mad at myself."
During the event, Schwarzenegger repeated many lines and themes from his stump speeches, casting himself as a political outsider fighting for reform.
California Democratic state Senate President Don Perata shared the stage with a union official for 45 minutes at the event, followed by Schwarzenegger's solo appearance for the same amount of time.