Analysis: Mud flies in recall’s final week

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United Press International

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Arnold Schwarzenegger may prove to be the bulletproof Terminator if he made it through the final weekend of the increasingly brutal California recall campaign relatively unscathed.

After a week in which Schwarzenegger was accused of being an admirer of Adolf Hitler and film-set masher, the action star best known for his portrayal of the unstoppable movie robot was being peppered with questions about the budding scandals as his campaign bus convoy careened north toward Sacramento.

His voice, already growing hoarse, Schwarzenegger began his four-day barnstorming trip Thursday in San Diego with a mea culpa to a sensational Los Angeles Times article in which six women accused him of accosting them over the past three decades.

All seemed quickly forgiven by the adoring crowds, although they largely consisted of Republican loyalists and those who would probably vote for just anyone short of Hitler to achieve the goal of getting Democratic Gov. Gray Davis out of office Tuesday.

“After the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski scandal, I’m not surprised at anything,” Shannon Stier told Los Angeles television station KABC after Schwarzenegger’s rally in Santa Clarita. “I’d like to vote a saint into office who shares all of my values, but the best I can hope for is change.”

The impact of the allegations may be slowing some of the momentum toward a recall. A Knight-Ridder/NBC poll released Saturday found definite support for the removal of Davis slipping from 52 percent Wednesday to 44 percent by the weekend after voters had time to digest the serial groper allegations that had been splashed across the front page of the Times.

The New York Times and ABC News Thursday had followed up with reports that Schwarzenegger had told an interviewer in 1975 that he admired Hitler’s rise to power from obscurity.

Also Friday, a consumer organization announced it had obtained copies of e-mail messages from Enron Corp. confirming that Schwarzenegger took part in a private meeting at the upscale Beverly Hills Peninsula Hotel with Enron Chairman Ken Lay, a close supporter of President Bush, during the height of the electricity meltdown of 2000-2001.

The nature of the meeting wasn’t revealed nor was the reason for Schwarzenegger’s invitation; however the implication was clear that, if elected, the actor would be a friend of the energy companies Davis bitterly accuses of ripping off the Golden State.

Schwarzenegger told reporters in August he didn’t recall the May 2001 meeting, but that wasn’t enough for Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

“You don’t meet with America’s most well-known corporate crook in the middle of California’s biggest financial disaster and not remember,” Heller said in a statement. “Mr. Schwarzenegger should come clean about what happened at that meeting and if he shares Ken Lay’s views on energy regulation.”

Analysts up and down the state were anxiously waiting Friday to gauge the extent of voter outrage — or the lack of it — resulting from the hailstorm of allegations.

“Obviously, he is well-advised because he did what the political playbook says you should do, which is apologize quickly and shorten the life of the story in the media,” Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Sacramento Bee.

“Given that a lot of women had already written Arnold off as being disrespectful, the question is: Will it move even more women away, and will it move male voters?” Cain asked.

There has been a widely held assumption among analysts that Schwarzenegger’s name recognition and macho image has drawn a significant number of voters into his orbit, although it was Davis’ performance in office that forced the recall vote that eventually brought Schwarzenegger into the race.

Davis was narrowly elected last November to a second term in office despite being battered during the previous four years by the electricity crisis and the spectacular tailspin of the dot-com economy, which resulted in a decline in tax revenues that resulted in a budget deficit that at one point topped the mind-boggling $38 billion level.

The deficit and the debate over tax hikes and spending cuts gave rise to the recall movement that eventually drew more than 1 million signatures and 135 opportunistic candidates hoping to replace Davis.

The recall has been compared to a jury nullification in which the voters decide to throw out the results of the last election and give someone else a chance to do a better job. Voters are said to be angry with Davis and what they see as his mismanagement of the budget and alleged political misbehavior that caters to special interest groups.

“As far as I can tell, you’ve got your informed voter who wants to send a message,” Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote this week.

Schwarzenegger’s success thus far can be credited in part to the idea that Davis went to the well once too often with a message of “them vs. us” that worked well before in rallying the Democratic base of liberals, union members, and minority activists against perceived onslaughts by right-wing Republicans.

The strategy, in fact, helped Al Gore take California in the 2000 presidential race and elect Davis over conservative businessman Bill Simon in last year’s gubernatorial election.

Recent polls, though, show that the economy and the budget deficit are a greater priority to the voters than social issues such as abortion, gun control and state policy toward illegal immigrants.

It has been easy for the GOP to paint Davis as a goofy well-coiffed bungler whose free spending and pandering to contributors and lobbying groups with deep pockets eventually led California to near ruin. Schwarzenegger and State Sen. Tom McClintock have both run on a business-friendly, trickle-down economics platform that they tout as the answer to budget crisis.

Both candidates have vowed to repeal a tripling of the state’s vehicle licensing fee that was mandated by state law, but unfortunately for the beleaguered Davis still went into effect just one week before the election.

At the same time, Davis has been forced to defend his handling of the economy, which is rarely an easy task for an incumbent, and takes away a lot of the sting out of broadsides about Schwarzenegger’s inexperience in government.

Political muckraker H.L. Mencken’s quote that politicians have “no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office” summed up the accusations against all of the major candidates, including Davis.

Democratic lawmakers this week brought out a gaggle of police and fire chiefs to publicly warn the voting public about the impact that repealing the VLF increase would have on public safety; however even that effort fell flat as only a handful of reporters attended. The rest of the media declined, being too riveted on the Times’ allegations of hands-on lewdness.

If the voters shrug off the accusations this weekend as they did earlier reports of Schwarzenegger’s sexual exploits during his bodybuilding days, the Democrats will have lost their last and best shot at derailing the Arnold Express.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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