The Man Who'll Face Arnold

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California State Treasurer and Democratic candidate for governor Phil Angelides thanks his supporters at his election night party in Sacramento

Phil Angelides calls himself the "anti-Arnold." The California State Treasurer, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday and will attempt to unseat Governor Schwarzenegger this November, is a geeky-looking real estate developer who speaks with the voice of a wonky politician rather than in the snappy catchphrases of an action-movie star. And, unlike the moderate Republican governor, the 52-year-old Harvard grad is an unabashed liberal who supports hiking the taxes of rich Californians, legalizing gay marriage and granting driver's licenses to undocumented workers.

Angelides, who has served as State Treasurer for seven years and is a longtime foe of the Governator, has an uphill battle ahead of him. Aside from the charisma discrepency, Schwarzenegger's popularity ratings, in free fall for much of the past year, have lately rebounded a bit, thanks in part to $7 billion in unexpected tax revenue. In his favor, Angelides is running in a predominantly Democratic state, has the backing of powerful labor unions and may get some mileage out of the current backlash against GOP President George W. Bush. Still, in a Field poll of 702 likely voters last week looking ahead to the gubernatorial race, Schwarzenegger beat Angelides by 7 percentage points (with a a nearly 4-point margin of error).

The race could get ugly, with both candidates expected to start hurling mud and spending mega-millions on television ads. caught up with Angelides the morning after his primary victory and asked him about the race. How do you see the campaign playing out in the months to come?

Angelides: It will be a great debate, one of the most visible races in the nation, and one of the most pivotal elections of 2006. Governor Schwarzenegger and I have very different visions of what makes California strong. It will be a debate between fundamental Democratic and Republican ideals, and there will be a very clear contrast. Whether you're a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, it will be the debate over values that will be front and center.

What are you going to do about the obvious name recognition and charisma factors he has in his favor?

That doesn't matter. Everyone will know who the two candidates are. This election will be about who can be counted on to move this state forward. Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer a celebrity — he's a governor with a two-and-a-half-year record. And he'll be judged on that. This is about electing a governor, not about a lark. People will judge him on his record, and see what I offer to hardworking families in the state.

How do you differ on the current hot-button issue of immigration?

I'll let him speak for himself. I believe we should enforce the border and that's the federal government's job. I would not have sent the National Guard there — that's George Bush's job and he needs to do it. Unlike this governor, I'll get California the money that it's owed — this year alone we're owed $750 million for incarcerating undocumented felons. I'll work on a compassionate, pragmatic immigration bill. The governor is at great risk if he follows his mentor Pete Wilson's immigration policies.

What else would you say are your differences?

There's a world of differences. I'm willing to take on the tough issues of closing corporate loopholes and ask the wealthy to give back some of their huge tax breaks. I believe we'll be the richest, strongest California if we have the best schools, more young people going to college, and expand health care for working families. This governor has cut education, he's failed to balance the budget, and he's turned his back on working men and women.

Your Democratic opponent's adviser says you're open to attacks, calling you "a walking Achilles' heel" who'll be "torn apart" by Schwarzenegger's "Rove-trained wrecking crew." Are you prepared to take the expected negative campaigning?

No matter what this Republican attack machine throws at me, I'm ready. It's important to remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger has hired lots of the Bush-Cheney team to run his re-election. The fact is, the hits I may take in this election are nothing compared to the hits that students and working families have taken under this Governor. I'm ready for the battle.

What's your favorite Schwarzenegger movie?

We have different tastes in both movies and politics. I love films like North by Northwest and Groundhog Day — things that have both elements of comedy and real human interaction. And just like those different types of movies, I'll be a different type of governor.