Down in the polls, and with less than 100 days until the election, Phil
Angelides’ campaign for governor has revamped its campaign message. For much
of the general-election campaign–and even during the primary–Angelides and
his advisers worked to tie Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to President George W.
Bush, hoping the latter’s dismal approval ratings in the state would drag
down the governor’s re-election chances.
But, in recent weeks, the campaign has rolled out a new theme: Arnold
Schwarzenegger as a flip-flopping, convictions-free actor versus Angelides,
a “governor you can count on.”
Since July 25, the Angelides campaign and the state Democratic Party have
sent out 12 missives blasting Schwarzenegger for “flip-flops,” accusing him
of changing his positions on Proposition 187, greenhouse gases, fully
funding education, not raising money from special interests, and the
Minutemen. On Thursday, the California Democratic Party unveiled a Web page
dedicated solely to tracking Schwarzenegger’s “flip-flops and broken
In the previous seven months of the year, Team Angelides had never once used
the term in either a press release or memo to reporters.
“It is just too many flip-flops for anyone to ignore,” says Angelides
strategist Bob Mulholland. “As a public official, Schwarzenegger should be
embarrassed. It’s like he has an identical twin with different positions.”
As a political term, flip-flop was a common theme in the 2004 presidential
election, in which President Bush’s political team–several of whom are now
working for Schwarzenegger–plastered the label on Democratic challenger John
Kerry at every turn.
All of Angelides top strategists say the flip-flop message, which they
insist underscores a larger issue of whether Schwarzenegger can be trusted,
is here to stay.
“It is a metaphor for who he really is and can we trust him,” said Bill
Carrick, who will oversee the production of Angelides’ and the Democratic
Party’s television ads.
“It is going to be a key part of the campaign,” said Steve Maviglio, another
Angelides adviser, who, in a June op-ed that appeared in Capitol Weekly,
suggested that the campaign “distribute flip-flops at the governor’s
Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt David dismissed the new Angelides tactic,
saying that it is Angelides, not Schwarzenegger, that has waffled on the
major issues facing the state.
“This is not an effective campaign strategy, especially since Angelides has
flip-flopped on a number of issues, including Jessica’s Law and his plan to
make public his exact tax proposal,” said David. “To be effective, Angelides
needs to change his message of negativity and pessimism and be honest about
how much he is going to increase taxes on hard-working Californians.”
Angelides’ new theme comes as public polls show Angelides trailing
Schwarzenegger by as much as 13 points.
The hope, Angelides insiders say, is that the new message will help the
campaign gain traction in a year that the governor has repositioned himself
in the political center. Already this year, Schwarzenegger has embraced a
hike in the minimum wage, promoted stem-cell research, worked with Democrats
in the Legislature, and signed an agreement with British Prime Minister Tony
Blair on global climate change.
Those actions are a sharp contrast from the partisan warrior that called a
special election in 2005 that was opposed by every major California Democrat
and Democratic interest group. Angelides advisers say the shift–demeaned in
one release as Schwarzenegger finding “election year religion”–shows a lack
“Trust, character, convictions. Schwarzenegger has none,” says Angelides
The Schwarzenegger and Republican Party operations have spent more than $10
million in television ads since the primary trying to cast Angelides as a
tax-happy candidate that wants to “move California backward.” The result has
been a lead for Schwarzenegger in virtually every public poll.
Now, the Angelides campaign has begun to fight back.
Earlier this week, top Angelides campaign advisers organized an hour-long
presentation, titled “Path to Victory,” for reporters, outlining Angelides’
strengths in a general-election campaign. The campaign unveiled a new
slogan, “A governor you can count on,” atop e-mails to supporters and the
campaign Web site in mid-July. And, in coordination with the state party,
Angelides’ campaign has begun highlighting what they say are a string of
broken pledges, including not raising money from special interests, fully
funding public schools, and prioritizing health care for children.
Angelides pollster, Paul Maslin, says highlighting Schwarzenegger’s “broken
promises” is a natural fit stemming from more than a year’s worth of
interviews with voters.
“We’ve had a bunch of focus groups in the last year and they’ve said,
‘Arnold’s been just like the rest of the politicians. He’s disappointed
us,'” says Maslin. “We are not making this up. This is what people have been
saying to us for the last year.”