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The Governator V

Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to the people in his most exciting sequel yet!

12:00 AM, Oct 7, 2005 • By BILL WHALEN
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(2) Money--Quality or Quantity? Schwarzenegger has amassed $28 million to promote his four initiatives. Meanwhile, the public employees' unions will spend anywhere from $80 million to $130 million (add in the $80 million budgeted by drug companies to kill Proposition 79, a drug-benefit plan, and total spending for the special election will surpass $200 million, proving that the new gold rush in California is local TV stations selling air time). Think of it as saturation bombing versus one big blast. The unions have run TV spots against Schwarzenegger through the summer and fall featuring one of two themes: the governor doesn't like teachers and firefighters ("people like us," the ads refrain); he owes public schools an extra $4 billion from budget promises not kept. Over at Team Arnold, lead strategist Mike Murphy's plan is to spend a bundle at the end of the campaign, what he calls dropping "a grand piano" on the opposition. Why the gamble? Murphy and company are banking on Schwarzenegger's skills as a strong closer, and that the public still sees Arnold as a positive outsider, not a dishonest or non-empathetic politician.

(3) Start Low, Finish High. The history of California initiatives is one of measures starting high and finishing low. Schwarzenegger broke that rule last year when his Proposition 57, a $15 billion "recovery bond" to paper over the state's budget debt, finished with 63 percent approval after starting out with only half that support. Recent polling numbers indicates that Arnold may pull another rabbit out of his hat.

Here's what the governor's internal polling shows:

Prop. 7455% Yes44% NoProp. 7560% Yes37% NoProp. 7658% Yes36% NoProp. 7759% Yes36% No

Here's a survey, done this week, by KABC-TV in Los Angeles and KPIX-TV in San Francisco

Prop. 7455% Yes44% NoProp. 7560% Yes37% NoProp. 7658% Yes36% NoProp. 7759% Yes36% No

(4) Preview of Coming Attractions. To boost Republican morale and assure his donor base that's he's in the game to stay, Schwarzenegger announced last month that he'll run for reelection in 2006. Thus the special election allows Democrats to road-test themes for next year. State Treasurer Phil Angelides calls Arnold a "Bush Republican" who's promoting a conservative agenda. Angelides also has imported a red-ink theme from congressional Democrats, pointing out that the state's annual debt service of $3.5 billion is more than what's spent on the University of California system.

If that's the best Democrats can muster, then they're in trouble. California's credit rating has improved under Schwarzenegger; Angelides will have to explain why the legislature likes to pass debt-enhancing bonds. As for being a closet conservative, Democrats will be hard-pressed why the same governor who campaigned for Bush and vetoed a gay-marriage bill also has signed laws extending benefits for same-sex couples, supports stem-cell research, and advocates curbing greenhouse emissions beyond the Kyoto treaty. The best approach may be that of Warren Beatty, who accuses Schwarzenegger of governing "by show, by spin, by cosmetics and photos ops," and then disappears back to the seclusion of Mulholland Drive.

Democrats aren't desperate, but there is at least one desperate move afoot. A Berkeley physician has started circulating a petition to recall Schwarzenegger. If 1 million valid signatures are collected over a 160-day period by the movement, then the idea would be to slip a recall vote into the June 2006 primary. It would be an extraordinary gesture--attempting to recall a governor five months before his term ends. Then again, ordinary politics ended the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger took center stage in California politics.

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