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The celebrity engine behind California's Proposition 87 fight.

12:00 AM, Oct 20, 2006 • By BILL WHALEN
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But is that a smart way to campaign in California? While the "yes" side has gone Hollywood, the "no" campaign has hammered home a simple message of higher taxes and more reliance on imported oil by discouraging in-state drilling--with not a celebrity to be seen. That simple message may be working: the Field Poll has Prop. 87 sliding from a 52 percent to 31 percent advantage to a margin of only 44 percent to 41 percent, in favor. Traditionally, initiatives that slip below 50 percent tend not to recover on Election Day.

Should Prop. 87 lose, proponents will blame bad timing. Since July, gasoline prices in California are down roughly 20 percent. But a better explanation would be that California voters are outright hostile to ballot measures that raise taxes or add bureaucracy, no matter how politically correct or beautifully packaged they are. While Proposition 87 struggles, Prop. 86 has 53 percent support (down 10 points since the summer). Meanwhile, Prop. 89 is dead in the water, with only 25 percent support. Another tax measure--Proposition 88, which is a $50 parcel tax on homeowners to raise money for class-size reduction and school-safety programs--is now an officially "orphaned" initiative, since its backers have abandoned its campaign.

Perhaps the slick Clinton-Gore ads will turn the tide and rescue Prop. 87 from defeat. But this past June, Californians were asked to raise taxes on the wealthy to finance a universal preschool program. That initiative, Proposition 82, received a scant 39 percent in an election driven by a Democratic gubernatorial.

No wonder Prop. 87 supporters won't stop thinking about tomorrow. For these kinds of initiatives, the past hasn't been very kind.

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