The Blog

The Eraser

Despite a Democratic tide and a tru-blue state, Arnold Schwarzenegger is dismantling Phil Angelides.

12:00 AM, Oct 27, 2006 • By BILL WHALEN
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IF A DEMOCRATIC TSUNAMI emerges on Election Day, then it's reasonable to expect California to surf the wave. After all, it's the big blue nation-state that George W. Bush has twice lost by more than 1.2 million votes. Since 1998, with the exception of the 2003 special election, Democrats have won 16 of 17 contests for statewide office.

So why is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger coasting to reelection in a year when Republicans are likely to lose their advantage in governorships?

Much of the credit goes to the Governator and his ability to seize both headlines and the political high-ground. Want to criticize Arnold as eco-unfriendly? Good luck getting a word in edgewise while Arnold is doing photo-ops with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Care to call Arnold a partisan hack? By this time next week, the most furious campaigning in California will be Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers stumping for infrastructure bonds.

Schwarzenegger is skillful; but he's also lucky. And in California, luck came in the form of the Democratic nominee, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a perfectly awful candidate who also happens to be Arnold's perfect foil.

Not since Paul Giammati went vineyard-hopping in Sideways has the Golden State been the backdrop to such prolonged and pronounced angst. Only Angelides can't blame his problems on a failed marriage or merlot. As with the movie, his troubles center around a story he keeps rewriting.

Angelides began his run for governor vowing to spend more on public schools by raising taxes on the wealthy. That helped him survive a bitter primary fight; it also provided Team Arnold with its first attack ad. For much of the summer, the two campaigns disputed the legitimacy of Schwarzenegger's claim of $18 billion in new taxes. While Arnold's math is fuzzy, the impression it left with voters wasn't. By Labor Day, Schwarzenegger had surged to a double-digit lead.

Angelides's next move still has political insiders scratching their heads. California gubernatorial races are notoriously domestic affairs. Angelides decided to try to turn the campaign into a referendum on Iraq and the Bush presidency, appearing with the likes of Rep. Barbara Lee, who is distinguished as the only member of Congress to vote against going to war with the Taliban. Never mind that Schwarzenegger had spent most of this year staging mini-spats with the White House: over stem-cell research, levee funding, and deploying National Guard troops at the Mexican border. Or that Arnold had a snappy comeback when lobbed a softball by Jay Leno: "To link me to George Bush is like linking me to an Oscar."

As it turns out, Schwarzenegger's Tonight Show appearance marked a tipping point in the governor's race--it was where the Angelides campaign went from ill-fated to ill-tempered. Rather than do something clever--say, cut a quick ad and run it during Arnold's late-night appearance--Angelides sore-headedly demanded equal time on NBC. He took his protest to beautiful downtown Burbank, failing to get noticed by NBC but succeeding in getting plenty of free exposure for Mary Carey. As a write-in candidate for governor, the actress/adult entertainer (Bosom Buddies 6 and Can You Be a Pornstar? 7 & 8) also requested equal time, telling reporters: "More people know that I am running for governor than (know of) Arnold's Democratic challenger." (This just in: Carey has dropped out of the governor's race to be with her injured mother, reportedly a schizophrenic who jumped off a four-story building.)

Angelides's tantrum did have one effect: It inspired a change in his campaign's strategy. After dismissing Leno and other gabfests as low-brow fare for non-serious candidates, Team Angelides booked their man on Adam Corolla's Los Angeles-based radio show, a safe haven for the listeners who didn't follow Howard Stern to Sirius. The candidate and his eldest daughter arrived at the studio just in time to hear a 400-pound, 20-year-old man kiss a 72-year-old woman in hopes of wrangling an invitation to the Playboy Mansion's Halloween party. Not that Angelides was interested in restoring decorum to the show. During his interview he called Schwarzenegger a "robot," "the Santa Ana winds of blowhards," "a guy whose hair looked like it was dipped in Tang," and "a bit of a sociopath when I heard him on Monday Night Football talking about how great the Raiders were."