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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

David vs. Goliath
California's Treasurer/Governor wannabe vs.Schwarzenegger

[Doug Gamble] 4/13/05

If ever the phrase “Crazy like a fox” applied to a California politician, it might apply to Treasurer Phil Angelides.

When the dorky Democrat kicked off his quest for the governor’s office in March, scoffing could be heard up and down the state. He was pooh-poohed not only because he has the temerity to think he can beat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also because he threw his green eyeshade into the ring15 months before the primary and 20 months before the general election.

But it’s starting to look like Angelides’ early start might not have been a bad idea after all, with Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings dropping and Democratic and independent voters starting to abandon him. According to a statewide nonpartisan poll by San Jose State’s Survey and Policy Research Institute, the so-called peoples’ governor is now favored by just 49% of the people, and disapproval of his job performance has risen to 38%. Other recent polls also show his popularity taking a hit.

While the charismatic and shrewd Schwarzenegger still has to be favored to win any ballot initiatives in November and reelection a year later, there may be danger signs in at least one of the Institute’s findings. According to the poll, 49% of respondents answered “yes” when asked if Schwarzenegger is too interested in gimmicks, public relations and image, while 41% disagreed.

This can’t be good news for a governorship that is built on a foundation of gimmicks, public relations and image, from capitalizing on his fame as a movie star, to announcing his candidacy on Jay Leno’s TV show, to such stunts as throwing rolled-up T-shirts into campaign crowds to using props at staged media events. While most people in his position become celebrities because they are successful politicians, he became a successful politician because he is a celebrity.

One has to wonder if, should he face an unexpectedly competitive race, Schwarzenegger has a second act. It might be time for him to start behaving more like a serious office holder and less like a celluloid action hero. The frequent references to his movie roles, for example, are getting stale, and polls suggest most voters would prefer he spend more time at work in Sacramento and less glad handing crowds.

It’s likely that Schwarzenegger’s aggressive style, also apparently wearing thin, is a contributing factor to the leakage of Democratic and independent support. He often crosses the line from sounding confident to sounding like a bully, as when he bragged that California nurses were among the groups whose “butts” he has “kicked.” While Ronald Reagan could maintain his grace and a certain impishness even while attacking his opponents, the governor lacks that capacity.

Not only could Angelides benefit from being the first Democrat out of the gate, but also from the fact he has fought the governor at every turn, most notably in opposing the public pension overhaul plan Schwarzenegger last week surrendered on. While Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Controller Steve Westly were squealing early on like star struck schoolgirls in the wake of Schwarzenegger’s star power -- with Lockyer even admitting he voted for him in the recall election -- Angelides remained unmoved, as his primary TV ads are sure to emphasize.

The Sacramento developer is a predictable liberal who would strive to grow government and raise taxes, policies that contributed to early endorsements of him by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But California remains a Democratic state at heart, and liberals traditionally attract more voters here than they turn off.

A fight between the nerd-like Angelides and the swashbuckling Schwarzenegger looks like a David vs. Goliath match up, but any complacent Republicans should remember who won that one. Of course the treasurer will first have to wrest his party’s nomination away from the as yet undeclared Lockyer, but that’s another subject for another time. tRO

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly column for the Orange County Register and

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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