Down in the polls and facing a career-defining special election in less than
four weeks, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign is kicking into
full gear: He is making an unprecedented Spanish-language television ad buy
and he is inundating mailboxes with some 10 million flyers in the largest
absentee direct mail effort in California history.
“The issue of reform is much larger than I am,” announced Schwarzenegger at
a recent campaign stop. “And this is why it’s worth fighting for.”
Remarkably, Schwarzenegger–an internationally known actor who goes to great
lengths to market his public image–is absent from his own Spanish-language
ads. His handlers clearly believe that his own ballot initiatives, on which
he has staked his crusade for reform, stand a better chance of passing among
Spanish-speakers if Schwarzenegger isn’t personally identified with the
Ironically, his opponents are plastering the governor’s face all over their
The conspicuous absence of the governor, whose personal charisma and
populist image helped propel him into office in 2003, highlights an ironic
twist of fate that will drive the campaign’s strategy in the final push
toward Nov. 8: Schwarzenegger is now less popular than the reforms he is
Capitol Weekly obtained the results of an internal poll commissioned by
Univision, the leading Spanish-language TV network, showing that although
the governor may be unpopular among Hispanics, two of his initiatives,
Propositions 74 and 75, are ahead by double-digit margins among Latinos.
Propositions 76 and 77 both trail by single-digits, with many Latinos still
undecided on each of the measures.
Those results stand in stark contrast to Schwarzenegger’s own approval
rating among Latinos, which had plummeted to 18 percent, according to the
latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. To further court
the Hispanic population, Schwarzenegger recently announced the formation of
a Latino Coalition, with former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and Sen. Abel
Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, serving as co-chairs.
“What is interesting is that the Latino voters are being looked at by both
sides as a gettable group of voters who are going to ultimately decide the
results of the election,” said Carlos Rodriguez, a Republican consultant,
whose nonpartisan polling group Latino Opinions conducted the poll.
The poll, which queried 600 registered Latino voters and asked their
opinions on the measures after reading the official ballot title and
summary, is being circulated by Univision to drum up advertising
dollars–from both Schwarzenegger and the labor coalition lined up against
Some Democrats, when told of the poll’s results, questioned the legitimacy
of a survey commissioned by Univision, a company whose chairman and CEO, A.
Jerrold Perenchio, has been a major Schwarzenegger donor. Perenchio cut
Schwarzenegger’s campaign a check for $1.5 million earlier this month,
matching a donation he made earlier in the year to help qualify the
governor’s agenda for the ballot.
“The money goes in the favors go out,” says Steve Maviglio, spokesman for
the Alliance for a Better California, the labor-coalition opposing
Schwarzenegger’s agenda. “It’s like Perenchio is paying himself back. It’s
all about helping his contributor. It is not about reaching out to Latinos
who [Schwarzenegger] has ignored for the last two years.”
Perenchio is only one of many top contributors who Schwarzenegger has tapped
for cash in the waning weeks of the campaign.
In a private campaign conference call held at the beginning of this month,
Schwarzenegger’s strategists told potential donors that the campaign plans
to spend $1 million a day until the election, with $12 million still to be
raised. In this month alone, Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team has
taken in more than $4.2 million in new contributions. His Univision buy was
between $1.7 million and $2 million, sources told Capitol Weekly.
That influx of money has allowed the governor to invest in the largest
absentee mail campaign in California history, with 10 million pieces sent
out. That is nearly double the number of pieces that campaigns traditionally
use to saturate the electorate. The direct mail, which is sent
overwhelmingly to Republicans, is aimed at mobilizing a conservative base
for a special election where low-turnout is expected.
The intense fundraising has also allowed the governor to begin purchasing
airtime for television spots, including the Spanish-language ad. The
campaign has a parallel English ad without Schwarzenegger, titled “Package”
(the Spanish ad is called “Paquete”), which follows an identical format.
Four seemingly everyday Californians glowingly describe each of the
governor’s four reform initiatives, with an announcer asking for a “yes”
vote on the entire package at the end of the commercial. Schwarzenegger is
never mentioned in either ad–save the fine print identifying who purchased
“The special election is not about the governor,” says Schwarzenegger
campaign spokesman Todd Harris. “It is about fixing the broken system.”
Still, it was only a year ago that Schwarzenegger’s presence in large part
propelled an initiative campaign to victory. Two weeks before the November
2004 election, opponents of reforming the state’s “three strikes” law
launched a multi-million dollar television campaign prominently featuring
then-popular Schwarzenegger. With approval ratings in the mid-60s, the
governor was the most sought-after campaign surrogate in the state, if not
Before the ads aired, polls showed the measure leading handily. But after
the Arnold ad blitz, the initiative was defeated with more than 52 percent
of the vote.
Now the tables have turned: It is the union-coalition aligned against the
governor that is using Schwarzenegger in their ads. One labor coalition ad
titled “Record” characterizes Proposition 74 as “another bad Schwarzenegger
idea.” Schwarzenegger’s name or face–or both–appear on every frame.
Larry Grisolano, the lead consultant for the No on 75 campaign, says that
prominently featuring Schwarzenegger is a useful tool for opponents of his
“When they find out that he’s behind [Proposition 75], they are less apt to
believe it is providing new rights to workers,” says Grisolano. “It is
easier to understand that it’s about weakening the political voice of
nurses, police, teachers and firefighters.”
This is not to say that the governor will be completely absent from the
campaign airwaves. The campaign’s ad buy on Univision is identified as only
the “first round,” with later advertising volleys potentially including the
governor. And the campaign has already aired English spots centered around
In addition, Schwarzenegger has been crisscrossing the state, hosting
invite-only “town hall” events to promote the special election. On Monday,
Arizona Senator John McCain, who shares political consultant Mike Murphy
with Schwarzenegger, joined the governor to campaign. McCain’s appearance
signals an attempt to rekindle the reformist mantle Schwarzenegger held
during the recall, and early in his first-term.
Part of that strategy, according to the conference call between campaign
donors and strategists, is apologizing for Schwarzenegger’s first-term
shortcomings, namely saying things that were “more appropriate on Saturday
Night Live” than for a sitting governor.
The campaigns’ two main messages will be, first, that the governor’s
measures are needed to get the state’s fiscal house in order and, second,
that this election pits Schwarzenegger against pro-big government labor
unions defending the status quo.
This week, the
Schwarzenegger camp released an animated cartoon on their Web
Site, featuring a pair of union bosses “shaking down” a schoolteacher for
money. “Fighting reform is expensive,” chortles one of the goons. Driving
off, the license plate reveals that the total union spending against
Schwarzenegger’s agenda has topped $100 million.
“We’ve always known that the union bosses would say anything to preserve the
status quo and would do anything to fight reform,” adds Harris. “Now we know
that they will spend anything to keep the system just the way it is in