To hear Democrats tell it, the voters who overwhelmingly chreose to recall California Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday were sending a strong and unmistakable warning–to George W. Bush.
In California, Washington, and across the country Wednesday, Democrats struggled to portray the recall of Davis as the result of voter anger against the president, and not as a repudiation of a particularly unpopular Democratic governor.
“I think the message from California is a message to President Bush: Stop your reckless economic policies,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“It’s clearly not good news for George Bush,” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe said Tuesday night. “I’m telling you, the message across this country is that [people] have had it with George Bush’s economic plans…George Bush should be very nervous.”
“The voters in California directed their frustration with the country’s direction on their incumbent governor,” added Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean. “Come next November, the anger might be directed at a different incumbent–in the White House.”
The post-election Democratic interpretation of the recall stands in stark contrast to the pre-election Democratic interpretation of the recall. Just a few days ago, Democrats portrayed the recall as part of a right-wing plan to seize power in California and elsewhere around the nation.
In his speech to the state on August 19, Davis described the recall as a “right-wing power grab.” That characterization was echoed by former president Bill Clinton and other high-profile Democrats who visited the state to campaign on Davis’s behalf.
Now, however, what was once a “right wing power grab” has become a stern warning for President Bush.
“There’s spin, and then there’s fantasy, and that’s just fantasy on their part,” says Christine Iverson of the Republican National Committee. “What planet are they on?”
Exit poll results tend to undermine the “message to Bush” interpretation of events. For example, of the Democrats who went to the polls Tuesday–presumably those who would most want to send President Bush a message–76 percent voted against recalling Davis, that is, voted against sending the message that Democratic leaders now say is the lesson of the recall. Liberal Democrats, the voters who appear to be most angry about the president’s policies, voted against the recall by 84 percent.
The numbers on the other side tell a similar story. Of the Republicans who went to the polls–presumably those who would least want to send an angry message to President Bush–a full 88 percent voted to recall Davis. Conservative Republicans, the president’s strongest supporters, voted for the recall by 91 percent.
Pollsters also asked whether voters approved of the job Bush is doing as president. Forty-nine percent approved, and 48 percent disapproved. Of those who disapproved of the president–again, those most likely to want to send a stern message–78 percent voted against recalling Davis. And of those who approved of the job Bush is doing–those least likely to want to scold the president–86 percent voted to remove Davis.
“The simple fact is that there was a Democratic governor who so mismanaged the affairs of his state that they decided to remove him from office early,” says Iverson. “This is nothing but bad news for the Democrats and good news for the Republicans.”