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The Money Race

The recall effort is cash-poor. Will Gray Davis be able to spend his way out of the recall?

8:45 AM, Sep 11, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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THE QUESTION isn't whether Arnold can raise the money, it's how he'll spend it. If the goal is to recall Davis, the Schwarzenegger campaign could run ads specifically denouncing the governor. They wouldn't even have to spend time writing a script: Issa's Rescue California committee already has two recall ads ready to go. That requires Arnold's camp to make a strategic choice: Who do they make the foil, Davis or Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante?

In California's special election, recall ads come in varying degrees. They can be distinctly anti-Gray, as were Rescue California's radio spots during the signature-gathering process (accusing Davis of lying about the size of the state deficit). Or, they can serve to promote a candidate more than the recall. Soon after he entered recall, Arnold ran ads pointing out that he's running for governor, without explicitly asking voters to choose him--and only a banner urging Californians to support recall. But because he didn't advocate his candidacy, California law allowed Arnold to pay for such ads out of his Total Recall account. If Arnold stays the latter course, he promotes his candidacy. But that might come with a cost: failing to remind voters why they're unhappy with Davis. And without that closing argument, and a campaign focused on the second half of the ballot, perhaps Davis escapes defeat.

While he studies public policy, Arnold might want to bone up on some California political history. In the 1990 governor's race, Republican Pete Wilson ran neck-and-neck with Democrat Feinstein. At a campaign debate near the end of the election, Wilson announced his support for Proposition 140 and a new term limits law. Wilson supported term limits and Feinstein did not. Wilson won narrowly, but earned fewer votes than Prop. 140.

Let's suppose it takes a minimum of 35-40 percent to win on October 7. On the second half of the ballot, Arnold at present gets close to 30 percent of the vote. On the first half of the ballot, recall pulls down 55 percent of the vote. Doesn't it makes sense for Arnold to pump up recall and the first half of the ballot, then ride its coattails to victory?

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics.