Taking On Arnold

Phil Angelides and Steve Westly are vying to take on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By William Schneider

LOS ANGELES—Can California Democrats terminate the Terminator? They have two candidates competing in their party's June 6 primary for governor.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides talks pretty tough. "I'm someone who is a fighter," he said in a recent interview. "I'm going to stand up, fight hard.... I'm going to fight for working people." State Controller Steve Westly, the other candidate, said, "I think what most people want in leaders is clear convictions, a direction.... I don't think Governor Schwarzenegger is giving the people of California that."

How do they intend to take Arnold Schwarzenegger down? They argue that Schwarzenegger has broken his promises. "I think the voters elected Arnold in good faith because he promised to protect education, balance the budget, stand up for the people, and he's turned out to be the one who has really disappointed them," Angelides said. Westly said, "I think they've heard the promises he's made about working across party lines, only to see him then turn around and attack nurses, teachers, firefighters."

Schwarzenegger wavers, they argue. "In the first year, he was a moderate," Westly said. "In his second year, he was a right-wing conservative. Now he's running on the far left." The far left? "You have to admit," Westly said, "it's pretty ironic for a Republican to be pushing a bond package that's so huge, he can't get a single vote from his own party."

In 2003, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis looked like a typical politician. He broke his promises. He wavered. He took record amounts of special-interest money. Schwarzenegger beat Davis in the recall because he promised to be different. And now? "The governor has taken more special-interest money than Gray Davis ever dreamed of," Westly said. "He began to look like a traditional politician."

That perception may create a level playing field. A lot of voters see the two Democratic contenders this year as typical politicians: insiders in the Gray Davis mold. True, both made their fortunes in the private sector—Angelides in real estate, Westly as a top eBay executive. But both are now statewide officeholders. Angelides used to be the state Democratic Party chairman. "People want a real governor," Angelides said. "They've had enough of the show." Westly describes himself as "someone who can run a very large state government."

The differences between the two Democrats are not huge. Angelides calls Westly "a pale version of Arnold Schwarzenegger" because he supported the governor in the first months after the recall—as did most California voters and many Democrats. Angelides is seen as the more liberal candidate because he pledges "to roll back some of the tax giveaways for big corporations" and "to people making over a half-million dollars a year."

So far, neither Democrat has caught fire with the voters. The latest primary polls show Angelides slightly ahead, 35 percent to 32 percent in a poll taken by the Public Policy Institute of California and 37 percent to 34 percent in a Los Angeles Times poll. Both results are within the margin of error. And both polls show that about a third of Democrats are still undecided.

Do the Democrats have a secret weapon they can use to bring the mighty Terminator down? They do: President Bush, who is deeply unpopular in California. Westly said, "I think people will absolutely tie the two together. I think it's right to do so. I think Governor Schwarzenegger is going to have a very tough time running as a Republican in 2006." Angelides said, Bush is "going to be an anchor around Arnold Schwarzenegger's neck.... Schwarzenegger stood up for George Bush, campaigned with him in Ohio, helped him get re-elected."

The latest polls pitting Angelides against Schwarzenegger? A dead heat in the PPIC poll: Angelides 38 percent, Schwarzenegger 38 percent. The L.A. Times poll is also nearly even: Angelides 46, Schwarzenegger 45.

Westly against Schwarzenegger? A dead heat in the PPIC poll, Westly 36, Schwarzenegger 36. The L.A. Times poll gives Westly the lead, 50 percent to 40 percent.

In other words, it could happen. A policy wonk brings down the Terminator! For Democrats, it would be sweet retribution for what Schwarzenegger did to Gray Davis in 2003. They might even call it "The Revenge of the Nerds."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/06/taking-on-arnold/305001/