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Monday | September 29, 2003

Recall Enters Final Week with Davis on the Ropes

By Meteor Blades

As the cliché has it, the only poll that counts comes on election day. But, with one week left in the California Recall, Gray Davis is looking more like a goner every passing hour. And Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s schlubby campaign performance has gravely reduced his chances of beating Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The CNN-USA Today Poll released Sunday doesn’t offer any cheer. The media have focused on the 63% to 35% margin of “probable” voters in favor of the Recall. That compares with 69%-26% in the August 7-10 poll.

Some critics have charged that many of these "probables" should be counted in the "unlikely" category. Be that as it may, looking at “registered voters” does little to perk up Recall foes. Registered Californians in the poll say they would vote in favor of the Recall by a 55% to 41% margin. In August, the comparable figures were 64% in favor and 29% against.

Either way you slice it, these aren’t encouraging numbers.

In the full field of candidates, the poll gives Schwarzenegger 34% of registered voters as a replacement candidate; Bustamante gets 28%; and McClintock gets 16%, with the others trailing in single digits, at best. Among "probable" voters, the results are far worse, with Bustamante getting only 25% and Schwarzenegger getting 40%.

If there’s any glimmer of hope in these numbers, it comes from the fact that respondents in the poll may have leaned slightly more Republican than California registered voters do. But the gap is not large.

Dan Weintraub examines the polling methodology in one of his more unbiased analyses.

In addition to the bad polling news, the California Republican Party’s 21-member governing board has voted 17-0 to endorse Schwarzenegger, which effectively crushes whatever lingering hopes Tom McClintock had of somehow closing the gap between him and the front-runner. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The decision to back Schwarzenegger marks the first time that the state GOP's governing board has endorsed one Republican candidate over another in a contested gubernatorial race. Earlier this month the state party leaders had declined to endorse a candidate during a statewide convention.

"Arnold has a proven ability to connect with voters, to solidify the Republican base while reaching out to Democrats and independents, and to excite new voters," said California Republican Party Chairman Duf Sundheim in a statement. "It is our hope that Californians who share our concern for the future unite behind Arnold in the final days of this historic election."

McClintock, a Rightwing purist, obviously doesn’t see it that way and still shows no signs of dropping out.

"That's not the Republican Party. That's 21 people in the Republican Party," McClintock said of the governing board. "I don't think Republican voters are going to accept that. I don't think the grass roots of the Republican Party will accept that."

A week ago, Recall foes and Bustamante fans still had strong feelings that Schwarzenegger would damage himself in the five-way debate. I personally gave him a C minus for presentation, a D minus for vacuous content and an F for his gratuitous attack on Arianna Huffington by referencing the toilet bowl dunking scene from Terminator 3.

However, that wasn’t the astonishing view of many Californians, as described by the polls. A plurality said they thought Schwarzenegger did best in the debate.

In that light, Cal Pundit notes:

James Joyner expresses mild surprise that Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have "won" the recall debate last week:

"What this...demonstrates is the differences between the mindset of average voters versus intellectuals and political junkies. While I was impressed with Bustamante's cool demeanor and seeming grasp of the issues--even though I disagreed with most of his policy prescriptions--most viewers just thought he was uninspiring. While I thought Arnold was charming, I thought he lacked substance; most viewers apparently thought he exuded leadership. Thankfully, the mass public and I agree on one thing: Huffington is an annoying idiot."

I think this is about right. Policy positions aside, Bustamante seemed mostly pretty I think this is about right. Policy positions aside, Bustamante seemed mostly pretty calm and knowledgable to me, while Arnold was a buffoon who was constantly scrapping with Arianna and tossing out Hollywood one liners.

But that's not how most people saw it. What they saw was that Bustamante was "condescending" and Schwarzenegger was "engaging." It's a complete flip flop.

What this shows once again is that in American politics there is no greater sin than looking like you think you're smarter than the other guy. It killed Al Gore in 2000 and probably did the same to Bustamante last week. You'd think big time politicians would eventually learn this lesson.

Marc Cooper at the LA Weekly, and no fan of Schwarzenegger or Republicans, in general, was less kind:

The lieutenant governor served himself up like a 200-pound Chinese meal. A half-hour after the debate I couldn’t remember a single complete sentence Cruz might have uttered. I imagine some Democrats, however, did notice his rather tepid opposition to the recall itself and his pointed refusal to associate himself with Governor Davis.

Sensing blood, the media, which, excepting the Los Angeles Times, has been none to kind to Davis anyway, seem to be anticipating the post mortem.

The Sacramento Bee reports:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Gov. Gray Davis campaigned with the nation's only Hispanic governor Monday, sniping at Arnold Schwarzenegger and brushing off a poll showing he could lose his job in a week as Schwarzenegger gained more Republican support.

Davis, appearing with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in the Los Angeles area, renewed his calls for Schwarzenegger to debate him, a proposition the actor rejected.

"I don't know what Mr. Schwarzenegger is afraid of," Davis said Monday. "I mean I never participated in a Mr. Universe contest. I weigh maybe 165 pounds on a good day. I'm ready to go to him toe-to-toe but he seems to be the one on the run."

"We've declined. We have our final week of the campaign schedule locked in," Stutzman said. "Gray Davis didn't want to debate Arnold Schwarzenegger until Gray Davis realized he was dead in the water."

And the San Francisco Chronicle weighs in:

A late-hour television strategy by Gov. Gray Davis' to paint Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cowardly candidate who won't debate "the governor he wants to replace" reveals the true telltale mark of a losing campaign, political analysts said Monday.

Front-runners and incumbents typically avoid debates, analysts said, noting Davis used that strategy in his previous campaign. Now, they view Davis' challenge to Schwarzenegger as a "roll of the dice" ploy for survival.

Historically, trailing candidates from Democrat George McGovern in the 1972 presidential race to Republican Bill Simon in last year's California gubernatorial campaign have mounted fierce, but typically unsuccessful campaigns, to make their opponents debate them.

"When an incumbent challenges the challenger, that's a pretty good sign the incumbent knows he's behind," said political debating expert David J. Lanoue. "It's quite a safe bet if he was running ahead on the recall polls, he would be operating entirely above the fray."

Any hope of defeating the Recall now rests completely with organizing a huge turnout of Democrats – knowing in advance that perhaps a fourth of them will vote for the Recall. The outcome may also depend on how well Davis’s television ads play during this final week of campaigning. In politics, desperation is the mother of innuendo, so expect the Davis ads to be sharper-edged than they have been. After a detour into the negative territory he said he would never enter, Schwarzenegger’s ads will apparently be taking, if not the high road, some middle ground next week.

Posted September 29, 2003 10:00 PM | Comments (190)


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