CALIFORNIA'S TECTONIC PLATES, ITS POLITICAL ONES, ARE SHIFTING
by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 2, 2003 -- The only things that can be predicted at this point in the frantic final days of the race to recall Gov. Gray Davis are that panic reigns inside the camps that are losing, fur will now fly with gobs of flesh attached, and the losers won't just be the three men who voters reject as governor.
The new Los Angeles Times Poll, which echoes the recent Gallup-conducted poll for CNN-USA Today, shows something truly intriguing besides big support for recalling Davis on Tuesday.
The poll indicates that the "progressive" agenda Davis and the AFL-CIO union honchos believed Californians would back - whose essential message was higher taxes to support burgeoning state welfare programs, softer treatment for illegal immigrants and minimal cuts in the bureaucracy - failed miserably.
Two key findings stand out, beyond 56 percent support for recall, and Schwarzenegger's solid 40 percent to 32 percent lead over Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
First, groups that might have warmed to the images Davis projected - Davis arm-in-arm with the crowd from the failed bilingual education movement as he signed a bill giving licenses to illegal immigrants, Davis promoting his vastly skyrocketing expenditures for health insurance for the children of working parents - had second thoughts.
The Times poll says two out of ten liberals now want to oust Davis, as do 54 percent of women, union members, and the elderly, and 53 percent of voter-rich Los Angeles County. Democrats are defecting to Schwarzenegger so fast we may need a new term - not the Reagan Democrats but the Recall Democrats.
Second, California voters don't want social conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock as governor, but they nevertheless accept much of his conservative message.
How else to explain the 62 percent approval rating for McClintock? And a stratospheric 75 percent of them said he had the integrity and character to do the job. About 62 percent said that about Schwarzenegger, but only 48 percent said it of Bustamante - a comment on his entanglements with Indian gaming money.
One clear message from this poll is that Californians don't much like the leftist slant gripping Sacramento Democrats, which just resulted in a raft of new "job killer" anti-business bills. The approval ratings for McClintock and Schwarzenegger, and the 63 percent disapproval of the driver's license law, should strike fear into legislators who fought budget cuts and pushed for bloated state spending.
The media has focused on the horse race, but a larger struggle is afoot here. California has not seen a battle for power like this since 1966, when Republican neophyte Ronald Reagan wrested the governorship from longtime Democratic governor Pat Brown.
For nearly a decade, the far right has trapped the Republican Party in a murder-suicide soap opera, putting forth right-wing candidates for statewide office who can't win elections. The far Right, which is better-organized and willing to fight dirtier than Republican moderates, has crippled its party.
The Democratic Party of California has benefited enormously. The party has risen to its greatest power in more than 20 years. The last thing partisan Democrats want now is a moderate Republican governor who could tame the ultra-conservative tail that wags the dog in the California Republican Party.
Schwarzenegger, as governor, would pursue moderate policies even as he pursued fiscal conservatism. That means moderate Republicans, who fled their party, would come back to the fold. The Democratic Party could be taken on.
So, no, this ain't just about Arnold and Gray.
These colliding tectonic political plates are the reason why former President Bill Clinton urged Davis nearly two years ago to declaw moderate Republican Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles.
Clinton, although a purported friend of Riordan's, advised Davis to trash Riordan in an unprecedented Democratic expenditure during a California Republican primary. It worked, and Riordan lost miserably to conservative Bill Simon.
So Davis is panicking. My, how that changes a man. Davis refused to face the other candidates in the debates to which he was invited. Now Davis is demanding Schwarzenegger debate him, and the Davis and Bustamante camps have begun to trade insults with one another.
The only thing Davis or Bustamante can hope for is something with which to taint Schwarzenegger. But they'd have to top the Oui magazine article, shrugged off by many voters.
The fear among Democratic leaders is palpable. They watch helplessly as the Republican Party in California undergoes a transformative moment, in which its members put aside ideology and social concerns to go all pragmatic.
After what Davis did to Riordan, the Democratic Party believed it would enjoy years of control in Sacramento. Davis and the Democratic majority moved further and further left to appease unions and others--but the populace didn't. Now the Democrats have to find a way, with just a few days left, to hang onto to their brass ring.
Editor's Note: This was written before the Los Angeles Times and ABC News reports discussed in today's AR Editorial.