Out of Focus
Will Conan crush Clinton? Is conservative support for Arnold terminated?


Arnold Schwarzenegger must keep the focus on Gray Davis. He doesn’t accomplish that, however, with former Governor Pete Wilson as his campaign chairman. Wilson emerges as the campaign’s talking head, from Sunday national talk shows to stateside TV.

So the battle is now Arnold and Pete against Gray and Bill. That’s Gray Davis and his new mentor, Bill Clinton.

The accomplished Pete Wilson has been unjustly demonized, unfairly pilloried, by the Democrats. But Arnold’s challenge is to win, not vindicate Pete. So the press attacks Arnold pledging to clean-up Sacramento and marginalize special interests, while hiring only consummate insiders. But average folks really don’t care about reporters criticizing Pete Wilson, Inc. That is, unless and until, cumulatively, assorted attacks undercut Arnold’s credibility.

Arnold’s spouse, Maria Shriver, a Kennedy and reporter (currently on a leave of absence from NBC), is media-savvy. Her sleepless husband was ambushed, she complains to his campaigners. Besides, she asks, what about the months of his alleged preparation?

Pundits inquire about Peter Ueberroth. Will the 1984 Olympics czar, a registered Republican tilting independent, credibly pick up Arnold’s reformist spin? He needs Schwarzenegger to self-destruct, Arianna Huffington to peak imminently. And a lean team of do-gooder Ueberroth loyalists.

Back to Clinton, he’s the perfect foil for Davis. Clinton can, in his folksy, Rhodes scholar “aw shucks” synthesis, paint the recall as a Republican plot. Only Clinton can instruct Democrats that Republicans exploited their stupidity. And, miraculously, the Democrats won’t feel insulted. How else explain why 40 percent of Democrats now favor the recall. Clearly, they need reeducation (by Clinton). What a country.

Clinton somehow, also, can excite African-American voters about the first Latino governor. That’s quite a trick. The last time they were excited about a Democrat for governor? More than 20 years ago, when then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor. (He lost to Republican George Deukmejian.)

Clinton’s involvement is ironic. Liberal columnist Matthew Miller had praised Schwarzenegger for his “intelligence and good sense” in saying he “was going to leave the Republican party over what the Republicans did to Clinton.” Presumably, Clinton sees the recall of Davis as akin to his own impeachment. Aren’t they both victims?

No doubt Clinton has been briefed on the federal lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and NAACP. The dismissed lawsuits challenging the recall were in state court. It’s possible a federal court could still intervene. But it must soon: This costly election is on the fast track. If the feds move the recall special election to coincide with the March presidential primary, then, it will turn into Bush-bashing by the Democrats, too long a campaign for Arnold, and long enough for the recall movement to collapse.

What about conservatives Bill Simon and Tom McClintock? Their backers speculate: Will either man withdraw? Simon has the campaign money. McClintock owns the fiscal issue.

Or does he? Porn star Mary Cary, certified candidate for governor, calls for taxing lap dances and breast implants. She wants to make voters happy. She also says more male orgasms will depress crime.

In this environment, Arnold appoints his friend, pro-tax Democrat Warren Buffet, as his economic adviser. Buffet thinks Bush economic policies are impotent. No wonder liberal Matthew Miller in his column prepares hopefully “for Arnold to repudiate Bush’s tax cuts.” Many conservatives want to lean Arnold on fiscal issues. He attended libertarian Reason Foundation events, boosted icon-economist Milton Friedman, keynoted Proposition 13′s 25-year anniversary dinner. Buffet, however, is the boldest big-name critic of Bush tax cuts.

All this on the eve of a presidential visit to California.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist in California.


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