Jewish World Review August 11, 2003 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Consumer Reports

California's recall election is a godsend | California's recall election is a godsend to political journalists, another blow to the Democratic presidential contenders, and a mild plus for President Bush.

For journalists, August is the ugliest month. The big shots leave Washington. Nothing much is going on. Now the sexiest political race in decades is happening in the land of beaches and bikinis.

For those unkindly - but not inaccurately - called the "nine dwarves," the recall is more bad news. They've been running for president for nearly a year, but hardly anyone has noticed. First, the Iraq war robbed them of attention. Then there was Hillary's book tour. And now, the Terminator. The recall will cost the dwarves more than attention. Democrats are going to have to put big money behind Gov. Gray Davis, or LtGov. Cruz Bustamente, or both, money that otherwise might find its way into the pockets of the presidential contenders.

The recall campaign means that though we may continue to lose a soldier a day there, Iraq is off the front pages unless something really big happens.

President Bush can cut brush on his ranch in Texas and raise money at Republican dinners without attracting as much attention from the press as he otherwise would. Then tan, rested, ready, and armed with David Kay's report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush can drive another nail in the coffin of the dwarves after the votes in California have been counted.

The election is Arnold Schwarzenegger's to lose. Most pros in both parties think Davis is a goner, now that Bustamente has entered the race. Davis' strategy had been to blast the recall as a right wing Republican plot. That would have been a hard sell against Ahnuld, with his moderate Republican views and his prominent Democratic wife. It's impossible to maintain now that a statewide Democratic officeholder has entered the race.

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Bustamente says he's against the recall. He says he just wants to give Democrats another bite at the apple if a majority of his fellow Californians disagree with him.

Even if a majority vote for recall, Democrats can keep the statehouse if those who voted against recall coalesce around Bustamente, while the anti-Davis vote is split among hundreds of candidates.

But that's a weak position from which to campaign. Is he going to go around the state saying: "vote for Gray Davis," or is he going to say "vote for me." For every Californian who has heard of Bustamente, there are 100 who have heard of Ahnuld. And most who have heard of Ahnuld like him. If Bustamente wants the job, he'll have to run for it, hard. And if Davis is also running to keep his job, there'll be mixed messages, and a shortage of money.

President Bush will help Schwarzenegger. He'll endorse Ahnuld, sort of, which will boost Schwarzenegger's standing with the GOP rank and file. There will be quiet pressure on other Republicans to get out of the race. It'll come down to Schwarzenegger/Davis or Schwarzenegger/Bustamente, whichever the Democrats choose.

Now that the firewall has been breached, the Democratic strategy is to sling mud at Schwarzenegger, a punch they've telegraphed for so long even a grandmother could duck it.

If this desperate tactic weren't so malicious, it would be hilarious.

Democrats who stood staunchly by Bill Clinton are going to say Schwarzenegger is unfit to be governor because he's cheated on his wife. Democrats who stand staunchly by Gray Davis are going to say Schwarzenegger shouldn't be governor because he's sometimes been mean to people. We'll also hear that Ahnuld smoked dope when he was younger, has gay friends, and has been heard to cuss.

And Californians will shrug it off. What the discontented want is someone who will speak for them and not for special interests, someone who is strong enough to stand up to special interest groups. Mostly, Californians want the fiscal crisis resolved without a ruinous increase in taxes or a gutting of public services. If Schwarzenegger can persuade Californians he has a plausible plan for doing this, he'll be governor.

If not, he won't.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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