Politics & Policy

Drudging The Past

The first hit on Arnold.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been slimed. The “Smoking Gun” website, linked to by the Drudge Report, has dug up a dirty interview; the magazine interview appeared 25 years ago in an issue of the now-defunct Oui.

The Terminator has anticipated personal attacks. He is counting on a voter backlash against negative campaigning. The Gray Davis signature campaigns destroy people. When Davis ran for U.S. Senate in 1992 against fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Davis compared her to convicted felon Leona Helmsley. More recently, he destroyed the character of Republican Dick Riordan, then Republican Bill Simon. This time, will Republicans circle the wagons around Republican Schwarzenegger?

Arnold continues to score points on talk radio. Suddenly, he’s expressive. He’s pro-choice, but against partial-birth abortion and for parental consent. He may be for gay rights, but not homosexual marriage. He’s for Brady, but also supports the Second Amendment. (Days before, he would not tell the Los Angeles Times his position on gun control.) And, no one can top Arnold’s anti-tax rhetoric: Even Milton Friedman seems to like what he hears.

Arnold’s sound bites are calibrated and poll-driven. He answers predictable questions quickly. As Dems attack his Pete Wilson ties, Arnold’s support among Dems and independents will decline. He must shore up a Republican base. Professional Republican endorsers support him. The usual suspects are donating in exchange for private time with the star turned pol.

Republican/independent Peter Ueberroth prepares for a substantial campaign. But will it overcome his tired persona? Single-digit Ueberroth seems unwilling to consider quitting the race. He has money and talented and able campaigners.

Republican/conservative Tom McClintock remains firmly at double-digits, but still only in the teens. His campaign has produced a 60-second image TV spot. It does not, however, play to McClintock’s strength: specifics. Where’s McClintock’s legendary tough talk? And a 30-second TV spot would double the frequency of McClintock’s token ad buy.

The fact is. Schwarzenegger needs McClintock gone. The campaign strategy isn’t too brilliant, though. One of Arnold’s many strategists attacked Tom in print this week. Is this any way for Schwarzenegger to narrow the field?

In two weeks, the California Republican party will meet for its long-scheduled convention. It’s the twice-a-year reunion of the circular firing squad. If Schwarzenegger attends (How can miss it?) this state convention, will this be his first?

Will McClintock hang tough? If McClintock caves, the convention will be about unity. Will it, in the end, be an undeclared primary election? If everyone has cut a deal to support Schwarzenegger, it might be. But if they haven’t, will the messy grassroots embarrass Arnold?

His Republican opponents hope Arnold Schwarzenegger will do something stupid — like invite Warren Buffett to chair a prayer breakfast. Then, the state convention would give McClintock a new lease on life.

How is it all playing in the media? The Los Angeles Times plays catch-up to the New York Times. It now challenges outsider Schwarzenegger for his insiders. In the end, it’s all about Arnold’s credibility. Who is Arnold, and can he believed? People will vote for him because they like him. Not because of any issues. He takes positions because he must. Nobody seems to care what he says, as long as he says something.

Arnold is increasingly specific on talk radio. He is the lead television news story. Again, the story is not what he says, but that he says something. We are nearly halfway through the campaign and still Arnold defines it, Arnold sets the agenda.

A long debate is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. In Walnut Creek, northern California. Gray Davis will take 30 minutes of questions. The remaining 90 minutes are for Democrat Cruz Bustamante, Republicans Tom McClintock and Peter Ueberroth, Green-party member Peter Camejo, and independent Arianna Huffington. Schwarzenegger is taking a gamble, figuring that the debate, sans Arnold, will be a non-event. Debate sponsors obsess about the perennial empty chair. Can they shame him? Will Schwarzenegger, as when he announced his candidacy, surprise everyone by showing up? If risk-averse Schwarzenegger boycotts, will anyone care?

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist in California.

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