Friday, August 04, 2006

California Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 4, 2006

95 Days until Election Day

California Governor

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The race for Chief Executive of our nation's most populous state will surely be one of the most closely watched and hotly contested races of the 2006 political year.It has been quite a wild ride in California politics since 2003 when the voters engineered an historic recall of the Democrat who had just been reelected Governor the year before and replaced him world famous movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican won the recall election in Democrat friendly California by a strong margin in whatwas probably the most crowded political field in U.S. political history, even amidst allegations of past personal misconduct, which would have proven fatal for most politicians.

Schwarzenegger got off to a great start as Governor and his reform initiatives and personality were so popular, that the Austrian-born former bodybuilder was talked about as the kind of person the Constitution might be amended for in order to allow him to run for President one day. Then, somewhere down the road, things started going badly for Arnold. He perhaps tried to do too much, too fast, and in too aggressive of a manner and he earned the opposition of such powerful special interest groups as teachers unions and nurses. The low point for the Governor came on Election Night 2005 when every one of the ballot initiatives he had been supporting were defeated and the calling of the election itself appeared to have been a complete political disaster. Some had speculated that Schwarzenegger would take a cue from his friend and fellow celebrity, former Governor Jesse Ventura and not seek reelection in the face of a potentially uphill challenge, but he quickly decided to forge ahead.

Since the ill fated 2005 Special Election, Schwarzenegger, always a moderate Republican with liberal tendencies on many social issues, has taken steps to move further to the left and to act more contrite and cautious in the direction he is attempting to move the state in. He has hired a liberal Democrat as his Chief of Staff and there is belief that First Lady Maria Shriver may be behind some of the moves to help him win favor back with the Democrats who took a chance on him in 2003. Some conservatives have been grumbled about these moves, but a major primary challenge to Arnold never materialized and in fact his numbers, while still much lower than he would wish, have been inching back up over the past several months.

As for the Democrats, there was certainly a belief that the "Governator" was beatable but the candidate that emerged victorious in a bitter and bruising Democrat primary is now leading observers to have doubts that he has was it takes to win.

In the June primary, State Treasurer Phil Angelides captured a close primary victory over an opponent who was seen as being somewhat more centrist and who had matched up better against Schwarzenegger in polling match-ups. Since the primary, the Governor’s job approval numbers have continued to steadily inch up and polls now show him leading Angelides by a margin of between 6 and 13 points.

The task for Angelides in unifying the Democrat base in the usually Democrat state is also proving to be somewhat complicated. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said not long ago that the only way Angelides can win is if he stays away from all television and radio appearances. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosia (himself a politician with higher ambitions) has yet to formally endorse the Angelides candidacy and many speculate that he realizes he will have to continue working with Schwarzenegger and is trying to stay in his good graces. State House Speaker Fabian Nunez, who happens to be a Chairman of the Angelides campaign, has also been known to publicly shower praise on the Republican incumbent as well. Democrats probably still envision re-taking this extremely influential office, but they may now be counting out 2006.

My sense is that for a variety of reasons and factors, all the momentum is with Schwarzenegger and no matter how well Angelides is able to rebound it will purely be a referendum on both Arnold's larger than life persona and his stewardship as Governor. The saying, "you can't beat somebody with nobody" has been used in describing this race many times and seems quite appropriate. There remains something still quite compelling about Arnold's personal story and in the most celebrityobsessed of any state, having such a famous Governor just may continue to be too "cool" for some to want to abandon easily.

The fact that the Governor has moved to the center or to the left, depending on your perspective seems to have only helped in a largely liberal state. People still tend to like Arnold personally and were initially very supportive of what he was doing as Governor but just felt like he bit off more than he could chew and got tooc onfrontational and sure of himself. If Schwarzenegger can continue to come across as humbled and more pragmatic, the numbers and momentum will continue to move in his direction and the voters will be far more likely to give him another opportunity as opposed to returning to the even more unpopular days of the Gray Davis Administration. While a Schwarzenegger victory is still not assured and would never turn into a complete rout, he might very well outdistance his opponent by a double digit margin, or something quite close to that.

As an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger made some box office blockbusters and sometimes confounded his skeptics by with his ability to reinvent his career after making some box office bombs as well. He will hope that 2006 will be the ultimate political sequel and his undisputed resilience and personal savvy might catapult him to a victory in November against an opponent who will probably be seen as just another, somewhat boring politician who cannot quites tack up with Arnold on the campaign stage and television screen.

Schwarzenegger campaign link:

2006 Governor Races predicted thus far: 2D, 3R
Number of post-election Governors predicted thus far: 10 D, 9 R