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Will the campaign turn ugly?


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SACRAMENTO — A credentialed Democrat who has soured on Governor Gray Davis recently e-mailed me. She describes fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as “slime-adjacent.” Why is Bustamante’s main backer the gambling industry? Why is his campaign manager a lobbyist? Why would unions gladly trade-in Davis for Bustamante?

It does not matter that Cruz publicly used the offensive N-word to describe African Americans. He said it was an accident. But a Republican would have been consigned to Spiro-Agnew-land. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson, Willie Brown, and Maxine Waters have signed on for Cruz. In other words, the deals have been cut. Can Al Sharpton be far behind?

A one-time Davis aide e-mailed me, too: “The reason why Davis hasn’t thrown mud at Arnold Schwarzenegger? He waits for Arnold to drive all the other Republicans out of the race. At that point, Gray will destroy him. Afterwards, he will order his henchmen to anonymously strike at Cruz, knocking him down a few notches.”

How can Republicans confront this den of thieves?

What word drives Schwarzenegger’s campaign strategy? “Inevitability.” That’s why Republican VIPs want other candidates to quit. But heretics Tom McClintock and Peter Ueberroth insist Arnold is not California’s destiny. Would their exits make Arnold manifest?

What will convince them? Schwarzenegger must do heavy lifting: Take positions. Answer questions. Debate. Instead, the Terminator cherry-picks. He calls talk radio. These shows helped Bill Simon defeat Dick Riordan. Now, they are McClintock’s base.

The hosts trade softball questions to Arnold for access. Arnold is eloquent on taxes. But does he try too hard? If this man is not himself, he cannot win. Why is he having a midlife campaign crisis?

Restless reporters wait to undo him. A tough New York Times article previewed an expected Democratic attack: that outsider Schwarzenegger is beholden to insiders. Arnold had implied he would self-fund. Now, he is accepting money from the usual suspects. Arnold’s spokesman told the Times: “Many of these donors will include people who have contributed to other candidates in the past. The difference is that they do not expect anything in return.” In other words, Arnold is no longer a virgin. But they are in love.

Ugliness, then, is in the eye of the beholder. When will the negative campaign start?

Schwarzenegger had said he would be positive. But the recent Los Angeles Times poll exaggerates a Bustamante lead. The resulting media spin could make this poll self-fulfilling. Now, Arnold is hinting of attacks on Bustamante. Truth is, Arnold cannot win without taking Bustamante down.

Bustamante seems nice. He looks like your friendly butcher, his intended job. But he must know that anti-Davis voters are motivated — more than the Davis voters who held their noses last year. Bustamante must demonize Schwarzenegger. But how do you make Arnold a right-wing extremist? More likely, they will attack Schwarzenegger’s credibility, and Arnold’s campaign and its flip-flops have left him wide open.

McClintock prods, but barely engages, Arnold. Without money for professional ads, McClintock must earn attention, the old-fashioned way. He must confront Schwarzenegger daily. He might also go after Bustamante. That would imply a two-way race: Tom-Cruz has a ring to it.

Then, there’s Peter Ueberroth. He is the Harold Stassen who has never run. He says he will never attack. I believe him. He runs a résumé radio spot. He ran the successful 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Let the games begin.

Arnold Steinberg is a California-based political strategist and author of graduate textbooks on politics and media.



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