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Schwarzenegger's coming victory

By Bruce Walker
web posted September 12, 2005

The pundits are already counting Arnold down for the count. His unpopularity with Hispanics and Democrats, conventional wisdom says, has doomed the Governor of California before the election campaign has even begun. Conventional punditry, as usual, is wrong.

The first problem with this analysis is that Schwarzenegger has proposed changes, while Democrats have merely sniped at his proposals. The man who stands for something will also have drops in the polls, but the men and women who stand for nothing have reached the pinnacle of their strength.

Arnold SchwarzeneggerRecall that over the last few election cycles in California, almost no Democrats, even in winning, received a majority of the popular vote. Polls show the same disdain for Democrats today, while Schwarzenegger appears floundering. In head to head match-ups with the most likely Democrat nominees, although the Democrat candidates get a plurality of the vote (more than Schwarzenegger), they receive much less than half the vote. These candidates are not unknowns, but statewide elected Democrats.

The second problem is that when Proposition 75 passes, money for Democrat campaigns will dry up dramatically. Many of millions of dollars that would have been available to defeat Arnold will be lost to any Democrat who challenges him. Moreover, Democrats for other state offices will be scrambling to get some of the smaller pie of union loot.

The third problem is that the vulnerability of Schwarzenegger will invite a competitive and bruising Democrat battle for the nomination. Time, energy and money spent attacking the Governor will have to be spent first attacking other Democrats. Indeed, it looks likely that the Democrats may actually need a runoff elections, because neither Westly nor Angelides have anywhere like a majority of the vote in Democrat preference polls.

The fourth, related, problem is that Republicans are almost wholly united behind Schwarzenegger. Pundits have conveniently forgotten that Republicans in 2002 could not defeat an even more unpopular Gray Davis because Democrats were united and Republicans were not united. Polls show a substantial number of conservatives disapprove of the job that the Governor is doing. All these conservatives will end up voting for him.

The fifth problem is that California government in general is held in low repute. Californians have a much more favorable impression of their governor than their Democrat-run state legislature. Democrat nominees for governor, however, cannot run against the California Legislature; Arnold can and will.

The sixth problem is that President Bush may very well nominate Janice Rogers Brown, the most successful vote-getter in California politics since Ronald Reagan, to the Supreme Court. This would, of course, create a problem for Boxer and Feinstein, but it would create a greater problem for the Democrat for governor.

What would Angelides or Westly say if Schwarzenegger asked them to join him in endorsing her confirmation to the Supreme Court? If they declined, then they would risk offending women, blacks and Californians who have elected her. If they endorsed her, then the Democrat base would be sullen and indifferent. If they declined to take a position, then Schwarzenegger could accuse them, rightly, of political cowardice and suggest they were not tough enough to be governor.

The seventh problem is that Governor Schwarzenegger's veto of same sex marriages was made on precisely the right political ground, from the standpoint of Californian politics. He did not veto the bill on its merits, but he vetoed the bill because the People of California had already very specifically addressed the issued and voted against same sex marriages.

Democrats can call him anti-gay because of his veto, but that will be a very risky game for them. Consider the response that Governor Schwarzenegger can make to that argument: "I am not against gay rights, I am against the legislature, who polls show Californians do not trust at all, taking away from the people their sovereign right to decide this issue. So I ask that this issue be placed on the ballot for the November 2006 elections, and I ask challenging my Democrat opponent to putting the question on the ballot. Let the people, not Sacramento politicians, decide this issue. "

What could Democrats do? Would they oppose allowing Californians to vote on this vital issue? Schwarzenegger need not even take a personal stand on the initiative – same sex marriage remains unpopular in California – and his Democrat opponent dare not support the initiative; he could oppose it, and place himself at odds with most Californians, or he could stay silent, and reinforce his image as an unprincipled candidate.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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