For Richard Nixon it was the Checkers Speech. For Bill Clinton it was a sunglasses-and-sax appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show
. Desperate political times call for desperate measures, and in the case of California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, that time is now. With only seven days until the election, he trails Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by as many as 18 points in the most recent polls.
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Earlier this year, it seemed like Angelides would be giving the Terminator a much tougher fight. Schwarzenegger looked politically dead just a year ago, when voters rejected a number of conservative ballot initiatives he backed in a special election and his approval ratings plunged. But the former action movie hero quickly recast himself as a moderate pragmatist, making deals with the Democratic-controlled legislature on bills ordering a minimum wage hike and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. His centrist image restored by late summer, Schwarzenegger pulled ahead of Angelides and hasn't trailed since. Along the way, he has benefited from the perquisites of incumbency, sharing the spotlight with world leaders such as Tony Blair and scoring a seat on the couch at The Tonight Show
that left Democrats demanding, to no avail, equal time. And with a $38.8 million campaign war chest enriched by contributions from Democrats Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, the Governor financed a television ad campaign touting what he calls his forward-looking agenda.
Angelides tried to ignite his bid with a populist pitch to raise taxes on big corporations and rich individuals and cut rates for middle-class families. He also hoped his hard-hitting ads linking Schwarzenegger to President Bush would resonate. But neither move has caught fire. So what can Angelides do in the closing week of the campaign to pull off a political miracle, if anything? We collected opinions from across the political spectrum.
Ride the National Wave
Angelides must find a way to ride the mounting wave of support for Democratic candidates nationwide. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Howard Dean have done their part by stumping across the state with him in recent weeks, stoking partisan passions. "There's a tsunami headed West from the Atlantic Seaboard that's going to knock over Republican candidates," says Bob Mulholland, campaign advisor for the state Democratic party. "Angelides needs to be on top of it." But Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, doubts the wave will drown Schwarzenegger, who now enjoys a 52% approval rating.
Show The Three Faces of Arnold
Democrats insist Angelides can get traction fast by hammering Schwarzenegger as a political schizophrenic who has opportunistically morphed from moderate reformer during his first campaign to a conservative extremist while pushing his special-election initiatives last year and now to centrist consensus builder as he seeks a second term. They are applauding an Angelides 30-second spot launched a few days ago attacking the Governor for being "a Republican pretending to be something he's not."
Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Matt David disputes the characterization and says "the Angelides campaign is attacking the Governor's bipartisan accomplishments because they only know one way of business: bitter partisan politics. It appears Mr. Angelides is resigned to spending the remaining days of this campaign launching personal smears. In the meantime, the Governor will continue to talk about his vision for moving California forward." Others note that similar charges have been leveled at the incumbent throughout the campaign and hasn't stuck yet. Nevertheless, Art Torres, state Democratic chairman, urges Angelides to "keep telling people that if they think they know where Arnold stands, they better think again, because he's a chameleon and a caricature."
Turn Out the Faithful
Supporters of Angelides are hanging their hopes for high turnout on recent Pew Research findings that their party members are far more excited about voting than Republicans. Democratic volunteers are already working phone banks and knocking on doors to spur liberals, Latinos and African Americans, among other party faithful, to cast ballots for Angelides. Labor unions for the building trades and health workers are being equally aggressive, leafleting at construction sites early each morning and talking up Angelides to undecided nurses at lunchtime.
"This election will be won on the ground," says Mary Gutierrez, communications director of the L.A. County AFL-CIO. But Republican insiders, such as former State Senator Jim Brulte, are equally confident that the "tens of millions" their party is spending to get out the vote will counteract all that. Furthermore, Brulte says, thanks to Schwarzenegger the Golden State G.O.P. isn't dispirited and its roster of candidates in down-ticket races is so diverse that "there's something for every Republican to like."
Hail Mary: Try the Mountjoy Ploy
If all else fails, there's always the tactic made famous by Dick Mountjoy, whose bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein is foundering. Trailing by 28 points, Mountjoy has asked supporters to pray for him.