Politics & Policy

Weekend Race

The conventions shake things up. Or not.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — This is a race to the finish.

Our first black president will go to church in Los Angeles on Sunday. Bill Clinton might just upstage this weekend’s political conventions. Both state Democrats and state Republicans meet, and it could be high noon on Saturday.

At least for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He speaks to Republicans at lunch, while rival Tom McClintock gets the prestigious Saturday-night banquet. But Arnold will easily make the evening news and meet deadlines for the Sunday papers. McClintock needs a strong Saturday-morning news conference to compete. If he persuades the media to hang around and makes news Saturday night, he could get two bites at the apple.

But that would be atypical. In the most unusual election of our lifetime, advertising is secondary, and events do matter. Both the recall and Schwarzenegger’s candidacy make for (a) incredible media coverage, and (b) voracious voter interest. The anti-Arnold, Tom McClintock, could have been covered on the nightly network news by merely engaging Arnold daily — and voters would have paid attention. Inexplicably, McClintock’s campaign often is this: a television crew taping him on a telephone, being interviewed in talk radio. The cost for his a professional press operation is $60,000. Return: 200% daily in money-quantified coverage, not counting consequent dollars raised.

The Los Angeles Times e-mail “poll alert” yesterday headlined a three-way race (Bustamante, Schwarzenegger, McClintock) to replace Davis, but today the newspaper’s page-one headline focused on the closeness of the recall. Regardless, McClintock has a new lease on (media-defined) life. Will he take advantage of it?

As Arnold Schwarzenegger runs the clock, the press gives him a pass on stumbles, or people don’t care. Will the other shoe drop? Even if tribal Indian casinos spend millions against Arnold, can McClintock benefit? Not unless Tom gets vastly better known by spinning the Times poll and taking off this weekend. After all, Arnold has outspend McClintock 20-to-1 on ads, and his campaign has stalled.

The theme of the Democratic convention will be “No” on the recall of Gray Davis, and “Yes” on the election of Cruz Bustamante. The second part is just a safety, in case Davis is recalled. In fact, public and private polls show a 5-to-4 majority favors the recall. This is down from an artificial 2-to-1-recall majority at the height of Arnold-mania.

The Davis no-on-recall campaign does not mention his name. But its core message, implicit, is that in such situations, go with the devil you know; do not throw baby Davis out with the fiscal bathwater. No one pretends that Davis is competent or likable. Indeed, the advertising does not mention his name. Davis himself instinctively errs, as when he says Republicans would kill their mother than raise taxes. Or that voters would not support Arnold, because he says he wants to be the governor of cauliflower. Davis yet aggravates voters by ever playing the victim. It is President Bush’s fault. A scheme of the energy cartel. A right-wing conspiracy.

If only Davis knew. There is a prima-facie case for a right-wing conspiracy. It is the capitulation of talk-radio hosts to Schwarzenegger. They ask softball questions in rationed minutes. The call-in shows have no call-ins. Why, they seem to ask, campaign for McClintock when he himself does not?

As for Bustamante, he qualifies as the most disingenuous politician in American history. If you believe he wants the recall to fail, then you can buy the San Pedro bridge.

Bill Clinton will speak at First AME Church. Also on hand will be Gov. Gray Davis himself. According to Davis, God opposes the recall. God is not, of course, registered to vote. However, God is eligible for a driver’s license under legislation just signed by Gray Davis. Davis had twice vetoed bills to provide a California driver’s license to illegal immigrants. In the past, Davis even invoked national security. But less than a week before the second anniversary of 9/11, Davis capitulated to shore up his precarious Latino voter base.

This could be cruel irony for Cruz, possibly in post-license freefall. Suppose Democrats are enraged at Davis for his flip-flop. Will they nevertheless vote to keep him in office, because they fear seemingly Mexican nationalist Bustamante? And will African Americans, in their political twilight in the Golden State, gush about Cruz?

Rev. Cecil Murray’s huge congregation is the epicenter of spiritual politics. It is the Apollo Theater of religion. Here, Rep. Maxine Waters is their role model. That tells you that, Jesse Jackson notwithstanding, hope is not alive. But the legacy of LBJ’s Great Society is. Street money has become Federal grants. And state’s rights? An unrecalled Gray Davis will find new money in the pressurized state budget for Rev. Murray’s friends.

Arnold Steinberg is a California-based political strategist.


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