Saturday | September 27, 2003
It's Davis vs. Schwarzenegger
A year ago Gray Davis targeted a Republican candidate in a race that didn’t have Davis’ name on the ballot. With only 10 days until voters decide whether to recall Davis, he’s doing it again, truning the California recall into a showdown between Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It looked like it might turn out differently just a few weeks ago, when all the entertainment journalists had to learn about the guy who was polling ahead of the actor they had anointed California’s next governor. But since then Lt Governor Cruz Bustamante’s campaign has foundered:
Bustamante faces a growing perception that his campaign has stalled, according to fellow Democrats and independent analysts…
Among Democratic leaders and constituency groups, anxiety has begun to take hold that Bustamante's campaign is fumbling its opportunities, said a Democratic official with ties to both the lieutenant governor and Gov. Gray Davis who spoke on condition that he not be named.
"People are almost cringing sometimes, saying, 'He's got to be stronger,' " the official said…
But since entering the race in August, Bustamante has been unable to climb above 30% in public opinion polls, putting him neck and neck with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California indicated that many Democrats remain ambivalent about the lieutenant governor, with just 49% saying they plan to vote for him…
Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both showing why they are known for seizing rather than fumbling opportunities, coming out hard against each other this week. Schwarzenegger has continued his attacks on Davis, and Davis began airing ads questioning Schwarzenegger's ability and experience and using surrogates such as Ann Richards to ridicule Schwarzenegger's views on women.
Both men were driven to promote a two-person race by their own strategic imperatives. Schwarzenegger's strategist, Mike Murphy, suggested that the actor had little to gain by engaging his rivals in the race to become Davis' successor.
"Our question now is, do we want to spend our time arguing with Cruz Bustamante, or Arianna Huffington, or the Green candidate, when the real question doesn't involve any of that," Murphy said. "It's whether you want Schwarzenegger or whether you want Davis. That's the question..."
In internal campaign polls, Davis continues to fall a few points short of the vote he needs to remain in office. But the polls show a swing of several points in Davis' favor if voters believe his successor would not be Bustamante but Republican Schwarzenegger, Davis advisors said.
Bustamante is caught in a pickle—he needs to narrow the money gap between him and Schwarzenegger to pay for a final ad blitz, but devoting so much time to raising cash has limited him to an average of one public event a day. As a result, the press has little new to report and Schwarzenegger is allowed to dominate television while McClintock. monopolizes radio.
Most astute observers of California politics believe the results of both the recall and replacement elections will be determined by turnout. If the labor unions and the Latino and African-American groups succeed in driving their members to vote heavily against the recall and for Bustamante, then Bustamante should win and Davis will probably survive. But the more doubts arise over Bustamante’s chances—doubts the Davis team may be encouraging or inflating—the more likely it is that Bustamante’s lost momentum will be but the latest opportunity seized by Gray Davis.