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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel.

Super Bowl Debate
A lot's at stake for California on Wednesday...
[Doug Gamble] 9/23/03

A lot is at stake in Wednesday night’s “Super Bowl” gubernatorial debate in Sacramento, not only for Arnold Schwarzenegger but also for California, when he finally deigns to appear on the same stage as those he apparently considers the peons of politics.

For Schwarzenegger it is his best opportunity to demonstrate the political substance his critics charge is lacking. I’ve read the questions that have been submitted to the candidates in advance, and as best as I can determine neither, “Hasta la vista, baby” nor “I’ll be back” are the answers to any of them.

Debate participants will be expected, for example, to state specifically what cuts should be implemented to balance the budget and how a revenue shortfall caused by any repeal of the tripling of the car tax should be made up. If Schwarzenegger gets into specifics on these and other matters, as he’ll be pressed to do, voters will learn more about him and his political reasoning than they’ve known up until now.

What we do know is that he’s an intelligent man, as his business achievements show, a determined person, demonstrated by his unlikely but successful movie career and a shrewd promoter, as evidenced by the surprise announcement of his candidacy on the “Tonight Show” that created far more buzz and excitement than a prepared statement to a gaggle of reporters at a press conference would have. But voters considering who should be governor need more than that. His challenge will be to show enough grasp of the issues – not total, but enough – to satisfy those Republicans who are still wavering as well as Democrats susceptible of crossing over and voting Republican.

All of Schwarzenegger’s opponents on the debate platform are known quantities by now, but he is not. If his is more than a celebrity-driven, paint-by-numbers campaign, this debate will be his chance to prove it. But I disagree with those who say that by comparing Wednesday’s debate to a Super Bowl, Schwarzenegger has set the bar so high that he will have to pull off an extraordinary performance. I don’t think it’s necessary for him to hit the proverbial home run, just do well enough for those voters still up for grabs to say, “Yes, I’d feel comfortable with him as governor.”

The first poll after the debate will shed a lot of light on the possibility of a Schwarzenegger governorship. If his numbers stay about where they are now, and assuming Tom McClintock remains further back, it will be good news for Cruz Bustamante. I suspect Schwarzenegger will either have to gain ground this week or he won’t gain any more between now and Oct. 7.

On a broader scale, the debate may well have an effect on what happens in the recall, now close enough that it could go either way. An unimpressive performance by all would obviously enhance the chances of Gov. Gray Davis to survive, but it’s more complicated than that. A boffo showing by Schwarzenegger could either inspire more Democrats to go to the polls to keep the governor’s office out of Republican hands or, because he’s a moderate Republican, could draw disaffected Democrats to his side. Who does what and for what reason will make for very interesting reading when the entrails of the election’s exit polls are examined.

Having described Wednesday night’s debate as the Super Bowl, Schwarzenegger now has to hope he turns out to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and not the Oakland Raiders.

An aside: I had the honor of writing for Pete Wilson in many of his campaigns, teamed up with the late Otto Bos, a top Wilson aide, and I hold Pete in high regard. Tom McClintock’s remark that Pete Wilson was one of the worst governors in California history went way too far over the line. Pete faced some of the toughest challenges of any governor in California history during his first term, and ended up leaving the state with a multi-billion dollar surplus. I’m disappointed at the severity of Tom’s attack on a fellow Republican who served his constituents well as an assemblyman, mayor, U.S. senator and governor.

Doug Gamble has written for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and other prominent Republicans.

Copyright 2003 Doug Gamble




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