Today, you can almost hear worried Democrats asking themselves: “How can we
beat the Terminator if he comes back from the future as one of us?”
After his spectacular special-election failure, it’s been fun watching
Governor Schwarzenegger try to exorcise his right-wing demons. Gone are the
Republicans that triumphantly carried him through the 2003 recall election
and propelled him to the political brink soon after.
Chief strategist Mike Murphy (Oliver North’s consultant and a self-described
“right-winger”) is long gone. And the Governor Pete Wilson-types have been
replaced by Gray Davis loyalists. Now, Democrat Maria Shriver can be seen at
the governor’s campaign headquarters. She’s probably not there to pick up
bumper stickers for her Hummers.
This year, the governor has tried a new approach. It’s called being a
Instead of breaking his promise to schools and trying to raid the pensions
of police officers and firefighters, he’s embraced the Democratic belief in
investing in infrastructure and affordable housing.
His cheesy one-liners are no longer steroid-infused. Instead of insulting
legislators and labeling nurses as special interests, the governor has
turned into an election-year circus barker for bipartisanship.
But don’t be fooled by the last-minute transformation. There is a path to
beat Arnold. Recent history should be our guide.
In 1994, Republican strategists decided to turn local races–normally decided
by regional concerns–into a national referendum on the leadership of the
Democratic Party, which controlled all three branches of government.
Republicans won a majority of the votes cast for Congress for the first time
since 1946, giving Newt Gingrich the speakership.
The secret of Gingrich’s success was not the Contract With America, which
was introduced relatively late in the 1994 campaign cycle. It had everything
to do with a united Republican message implicitly asking voters to punish
Bill Clinton in all political contests, from dog catcher on up.
That year Republicans also gained a net of 12 gubernatorial seats–elections
that had nothing to do with Contract With America.
At the time, President Clinton had been weakened by the wounds of tough
political battles–gun-safety legislation, equal rights for gays and
lesbians, and Hillary’s fight for universal health care. And the Democratic
Congress was plagued by congressional post office and banking scandals.
Now the roles are reversed. Republicans control Washington. The president is
as unpopular as ever. Here in California, Bush’s popularity hovers around 30
percent and shamed Republican leaders like Tom Delay, Randy “Duke”
Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff embody the frustration that voters
feel for Congress.
California Democrats should tie all of these Republican rascals, including
the president himself, around Arnold’s neck, from the primary through
Pundits who say Democrats need a positive message miss the point. The
message is that Democrats are not George W. Bush Republicans and Arnold is.
This year, that’s more than enough.
It was, after all, Schwarzenegger who basked in the Bush glory at the
Republican convention in 2004. To a nationwide audience, Schwarzenegger
called Democrats liars and boasted that only Republicans can be tough on
Even worse, it was Schwarzenegger who campaigned for President Bush in
arguably the most important battleground state, Ohio, just days before
Election Day in 2004 in front of 20,000 people.
That day, the governor said: “I’m here to pump you up to re-elect George W.
Bush,” and it was a success. Ohio went for Bush by a tiny margin. America
re-elected the president and the Republican Congress.
Our task is to never let anyone forget that Schwarzenegger is responsible.