Long Beach, Calif. Arnold Schwarzenegger skipped the initial debate of California's recall election Wednesday and delivered what was billed as his first major campaign speech, getting pelted with an egg as he waded through a crowd at a college campus.
Unfazed when the egg hit his left shoulder, the action hero peeled off his coat and went ahead with a 15-minute speech in which he asserted that he was running for governor to give something back to a state responsible for his success.
"You have such a fantastic life, Arnold, you make millions of dollars to do movies and all those kinds of things, why do you want to do this?" Schwarzenegger asked rhetorically.
"And you know something, because everything that I've gotten -- my career, my money, my family -- everything that I've gotten and achieved is because of California," he said to cheers at California State University, Long Beach.
Schwarzenegger said he wasn't bothered by the egging. "This guy owes me bacon now," he joked later. "I mean there's no two ways about it because, I mean, you can't just have eggs without bacon. But this is all part of, you know, the free speech."
Several opponents from La Raza Student Assn. heckled Schwarzenegger at the speech for his past support of Proposition 187, which sought to deny services to illegal immigrants. They held a sign saying "Hasta la vista Latinos," but supporters drowned out the hecklers with chants of "Arnold, Arnold, Arnold."
Schwarzenegger's address came hours before the debate that featured five other candidates in the race to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who was given 30 minutes at the outset to make his case. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, did not attend and has agreed to participate in only one debate, on Sept. 24.
Schwarzenegger broke no new ground in his speech. He criticized politicians for overspending, vowed to reform workers' compensation, promised to prioritize children's issues and said he would work well with Democrats because he's married to one -- Kennedy relative Maria Shriver. The themes were familiar from his comments at past campaign events and on radio talk shows.
"I'm not beholden to anyone," Schwarzenegger said.
Talking to reporters afterward, Schwarzenegger sought to clarify his stance on campaign fund-raising. After entering the campaign promising not to take money from anyone, he soon began collecting large checks from wealthy contributors and companies.
"I will not accept any money from unions or Indian tribes," Schwarzenegger said.
But records posted on the Secretary of State's Web site Wednesday showed he took $2,500 from a union, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. Schwarzenegger's campaign spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the contradiction.
Schwarzenegger also was questioned about his decision to opt out of the debate. He stressed the importance of going up and down the state to get the views of Californians from many walks of life.
"One of my favorite things to do is stand there with people and debate over the issues and then let the people decide," he said.