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Calif.: Dems Battle It Out to Take on Schwarzenegger

Thirty-six governorships are up for grabs this November, but none is more important than the contest in California.

Since California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis (D) and installed Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) as their chief executive in 2003, Democrats have been plotting to take back the governor's mansion.

For much of the last year, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly have been engaged in all-out battle for the Democratic nomination -- both on the television airwaves and behind the scenes. Westly had been winning that fight for months thanks to a huge personal investment ($22.5 million at last count) that he used to finance scads of television ads across the state.

Angelides has watched his early lead evaporate under the onslaught of Westly ads, but his allies believe his return to the television airwaves (after a three-week dark period) and a strong endorsement by the state Democratic party last weekend is the start of a comeback for the treasurer.

Angelides needed to win better than 60 percent of the votes cast by the approximately 1,800 delegates at the state party's convention to win a formal endorsement; he wound up with 67 percent (Westly got 28 percent). It is the first time since 1990 that the party has endorsed a gubernatorial candidate; that year state Attorney General John Van de Kamp won the party nod over Dianne Feinstein -- the former mayor of San Francisco. Feinstein went on to win the primary but lose to Pete Wilson (R) in the general election.

Garry South, a Westly strategist, cited the recent history of California Democratic Party endorsements as a sign that it "doesn't add anything to the mix." South said he expected Angelides, a former state party chairman, to win the endorsement; "The only news that would have come out of this is if he hadn't gotten the endorsement," said South.

Not so, according to Bob Mulholland, the political director for Angelides. "You had two candidates come before a cross section of Democrats," and they overwhelming sided with Angelides, said Mulholland. "They believe in Angelides. They can count on Angelides."

How much actual work the state party does on behalf of Angelides remains to be seen, and it is entirely up to the discretion of state party chairman Art Torres. Mulholland said that, at the very least, the party will send a mailer listing endorsed candidates to roughly one to two million Democratic primary voters.

Mulholland acknowledged that his candidate is likely behind at the moment (two new independent polls shows Westly with leads of 13 and six points), but he said he believes Angelides's ground game -- buoyed by organized labor and the state party -- will close the gap.

In most states, support from the state party and the labor community would ensure a primary victory for Angelides. But because of the size of the California electorate (more than eight million votes were cast in the 2003 recall election), Westly's massive television campaign has the potential to negate a grassroots edge. And given the campaigns Westly and Angelides are running, a higher turnout should benefit Westly while a lower turnout should accrue to Angelides's advantage.

What's for certain is that two campaigns are set for a five-week brawl for the right to take on Schwarzenegger this fall. And there appears to be no limit on the level of nastiness between the two Democrats.

For example, take comments made by Mulholland and South to The Fix about the rival camp. Mulholland referred to Westly's strategy as, "I'm rich and I have a lot of television ads." South shot back that Angelides is "dorky" on television, adding, "There's an old saying in the retail world: You can't sell cat food if cats don't like it."

Any political junkie worth his (or her) salt should be paying close attention to this race between now and June 6. Either Democrat should be competitive with Schwarzenegger this fall, although the Governator's approval numbers have rebounded since his whitewash at the polls last November.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 1, 2006; 4:02 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Q. The state of California may be heavily Democratic, but the immigration issue is going to swamp the Democratic nominee whomever gets the nomination.

As long as Schwartzenegger pledges to veto any drivers licenses for illegals he wins hands down.

California is like Massachusetts in that the Dems dominate but any Republican with an independent streak (read Libertarian or blue collar) can win by adding independents and not-so-liberal Democrats to the GOP base.

The big lie of California politics is that by pushing Prop 207 in the '90s that GOP hurt its ability to win elections. This is a lie. They may have lost many Hispanic votes as a result but they can still win elections by supporting the control of our borders. It was by going soft on the immigration/PC ethnicity issue that Gray Davis and his gang was able to win in '98 and again in '02.

Posted by: Cavalier829 | May 3, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

For the first time in this California election, every voter is going to get a booklet with candidates' statements, except Westly and Angelides (who did not agree to spending limits). 45% of Democratic voters in California still don't see either Westly or Angelides as representing them.

Mike Strimling, who is running as a progressive Democrat, was at the Progressive Democrat's meet-and-greet Saturday night at the Convention and nobody writes a thing - All that you really saw at the convention or hear about were that Angelides and Westly are just focus-group-tested phrases in search of niche votes. They take no firm or specific positions. Mike Strimling, Democrat for Governor, takes some real positions on the issues. People are fed up with all the silly positioning of Westly and Angelides -- Westly as center-right and Angelides as just a single-hair to the left of him, at what anyone in Massachusetts, Europe, England, Canada, Australia or New Zealand would still call right wing.

Democrats could win with real Democrats and progressives to run in the general election with courage and conviction -- and get votes for peace, health, privacy, justice and taxing corporations. When we are just engaging in the Republicans' conversation and playing their game on their turf, we lose, because we don't stand for anything and don't know what we believe. People sense that, as they did in John Kerry -- he was a liberal and should have been loud and proud about what he believed. Looking for substance or specifics with Westly or Angelides? Good luck. Waiting for them to come out for peace or single-payer? They won't even endorse universal health care. Waiting for either to mention 3-strikes, the death penalty, or Proposition 13? Waiting for them to mention Bush's wiretaps? They are mum or take the right wing position. Think about it: neither of them have a record in any office that requires voting on any of those issues, and their money is all corporate and big developers. Angelides is just trying to position himself slightly to the left of Westly to get endorsements of the party activists, but he is pro-death penalty and won't breathe a word about the very right wing drift of California. People in Southern States get better social services now than in California. The Republican governor of Massachusetts signed a health care bill that is way to the left of anything Westly or Angelides supports. Westly already sided with Schwarzenegger to pass debt to our children rather than tax the rich or luxury cars. Angelides bangs the podium but is for little incremental changes at the margins. Neither seems to have any concept of how Prop 13 lets corporations get away with paying less and less taxes and shifting taxes to the poor and homeowners - locking the State and its schools in a downward spiral. Look at the website of Mike Strimling -- It is much closer to the platform that came out of the Convention than either of the candidates.

There IS a truly Progressive ALTERNATIVE in the race for Governor - Mike Strimling. Please check us out! Unless there is someone like Mike Strimling with a real Progressive program running and getting votes in this primary, then we just elect someone like Angelides or Westly and let them drift so far to the right that we might as well have elected a Republican. In fact, Schwarzenegger has said more about the growth of prisons and the need for rehabilitation and pardons than Gray Davis did. Why do we need to wait for a Republican to do those things when 100% of Democrats believe that. If Democrats vote Democratic in June, they will vote for Mike Strimling.


Posted by: Strimling2006 | May 3, 2006 12:44 AM | Report abuse

To Rasmussen Reports Representative:

President Bush Job Approval
Poll Date Approve Disapprove Spread
RCP Average 04/21 - 04/30 35.2% 59.3% -24.1%
USA Today/Gallup 04/28 - 04/30 34% 63% -29%
CBS News 04/28 - 04/30 33% 58% -25%
Rasmussen 04/28 - 04/30 40% 59% -19%
Cook/RT Strategies 04/27 - 04/30 36% 59% -23%
NBC/WSJ 04/21 - 04/24 36% 57% -21%
CNN 04/21 - 04/23 32% 60% -28%
FOX News 04/18 - 04/19 33% 57% -24%
Pew Research 04/07 - 04/16 35% 55% -20%
Gallup 04/10 - 04/13 36% 59% -23%
LA Times/Bloomberg 04/08 - 04/11 39% 57% -18%
CNN/USA Today/Gallup 04/07 - 04/09 37% 60% -23%

Why are your numbers for "Bush Job Approval" so far off from other leading polling firms ? You are +10 points to Fox News ?

How can your numbers be +6 to +10 off ? Rasmussen is nowhere close to every leading polling firm in the entire nation. How can your polling be that far off ? What is your margin of error ?

Rasmussen polling and statistics are unreliable and inconsistent.

Nobody wants to buy polling that is unreliable and meaningless.

I have emailed Rasmussen 12 times and can not get an answer from them. About their polling.

or email them at

And ask WHY ?

Posted by: Polling Fraud | May 2, 2006 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Karen, you have little understanding of California politics. Bush has a 32% approval rating and Arnold's isn't much better. The people of California like Democrats and Arnold Schwarzengger is going to lose this fall. His special election fiasco showed that the voters were not ready to follow him blindly in implementing a Bush-style agenda. And now Arnold is trying to fool us into thinking he's a liberal to get re-elected. He only got elected because he's the Terminator, not because he's a Republican.

Posted by: Q | May 1, 2006 10:33 PM | Report abuse

>Arnold is going to destroy the whimpy dems. The people of California are sick of the liberals enough to take it out on a democratic candidate. The polls always show dems winning bigger over other candidates than what happens after the votes are counted.

Posted by: Karen | May 1, 2006 06:13 PM <
Is Arnold going to "destroy wimpy dems" with his steroids, or with his womanizing sexual harassment? Honestly, People are sick and tired of the lying, corrupt, hypocritical ideologues that are currently "in control." Just look at their brand of lobbying and corruption the next time you fill up at the pumps.

Posted by: 6 months to go | May 1, 2006 10:19 PM | Report abuse

I was there at the CDP convention and watched the ground campaigns of both Westly and Angelides. Both had a lot of enthusiastic supporters but almost none of the delegates were persuadable. Most were strongly in support of Angelides as he has been running a lot longer and locked up a lot of early insider support and big endorsements and is a former state party chair. Westly has better ads and they are on a lot more and from talking to friends who pay no attention to politics about what they've seen you can tell its making a difference. This race has huge implications for the party and the state in general.

Posted by: J | May 1, 2006 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Survey USA
April Approval

Schwartznegger* (R) 35% (Down from 36% in March up from 32% in Feb)

April 5
Angelides (D) 36%
Schwartznegger* (R) 49%

Westly (D) 40%
Schwartznegger* (R) 48%

This is a significant shift from earlier March polls and other polls.

LA Times
April 21-27
Angelides (D) 43%

Westly (D) 48%

Angelides (D) 45%
Schwartznegger* (R) 44%

Westly (D) 45%
Schwartznegger* (R) 44%


Angelides (D) 45.5%
Schwartznegger* (R) 40.7%

Dem Primary

LA Times
April 21-27
Angelides 20%
Westly 33%

Public Policy Institute of Cal
April 4-19
Angelides 20%
Westly 26%

Field Poll
April 17
Angelides 26%
Westly 37%

Posted by: RMill | May 1, 2006 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Karen - you are so right. The voters in California are soooo sick of that incompetent Democrat Governor! Oh wait, the state is sick of their REPUBLICAN Governor. Seriously, what are you possibly talking about?!

Posted by: Colin | May 1, 2006 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Arnold is going to destroy the whimpy dems. The people of California are sick of the liberals enough to take it out on a democratic candidate. The polls always show dems winning bigger over other candidates than what happens after the votes are counted.

Posted by: Karen | May 1, 2006 6:13 PM | Report abuse


I think you have misread (or have been misled) concerning the California Democratic state convention. Far from being a cross-section of California democrats, he convention is a gathering of hard core establshment types, who are much more likely to support an old establishment type in Mr. Angelides, rather than an upstart like Mr. Westly. Mr. Westly has made a favorable impression on prospective voters so far. But the most telling polling result is that almost half the electorate is undecided at this point. It is likely the convention endorsement will have little effect on primary votes.

Posted by: larry | May 1, 2006 5:26 PM | Report abuse

much as i would love to count out schwarzenegger, i'm still betting that he'll retain the governor's mansion for another term. As lousy as his politics may be, Californian's just can't seem to get enough of the Governator's campaigning.

Posted by: Jake | May 1, 2006 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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