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.
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