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Winners and Losers: Recall Edition

Aside from the obvious, there were lots of victors and vanquished last night.

12:00 PM, Oct 8, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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WE KNOW the big winner and loser in the California gubernatorial recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not only the governor-elect, he got a higher percentage (48.1) of the vote among 135 candidates to replace Gray Davis than Davis himself got (45.3) on the separate ballot on whether he should be recalled. And when you combine Schwarzenegger's vote with Tom McClintock's (13.3), it adds up to a Republican landslide.

But there were other winners and losers in the recall that may not be so obvious. Here are a few of them:

Winner: Pragmatic conservatives. Conservatives mostly voted for Schwarzenegger though he wasn't the most conservative candidate by a long shot. McClintock was. But they recognized the election was about ousting Davis, not ideological purity. So they voted for the most conservative candidate with a chance of being elected.

Loser: Interest-group liberalism. Davis began his governorship as a centrist who battled with the loony liberal Democratic legislature. Then he capitulated and concentrated on giving unions, state employees, trial lawyers, Indian casino operators, and various liberal pressure groups whatever they wanted. The result was higher taxes and a bloated budget deficit--and a populist revolt.

Winner: Senator Dianne Feinstein. She opposed the recall and rejected strong pleas to enter the race as the Democratic alternative to Davis. My guess is she'd rather be a senator than a governor at this point in her career. She emerges as the top Democrat in California with no real party rivals.

Loser: DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe. This is the guy who guaranteed Florida governor Jeb Bush would lose to a Democrat in 2002. Bush won by 13 points. In California, he was crucial in keeping a strong Democratic candidate out of the recall. Thus his effort proved to be crucial in producing a Republican governor.

Winner: Tom McClintock. He didn't drop out to help Arnold, but he did make a strong impression statewide. In the lone TV debate with all the major candidates, McClintock was the star. Now he's the logical Republican to challenge Barbara Boxer next year and prove that a pro-lifer can win in California.

Loser: Recall critics. It wasn't a circus. Instead, it created political interest in notoriously indifferent Californians--and a bigger voter turnout than any election in years. The large field of candidates was quickly winnowed to four serious ones. The recall was grass roots democracy at its best.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.