Schwarzenegger’s political brigade cranks up fight for voters’ hearts and minds

In the fifth floor of the old Senator Hotel, the corner office has no name plate on the front door. Inside is an office with barren walls and a dozen or so desks, each with an identical telephone and Compaq computer. In one room, a couple of fold-out picnic tables have been placed side-by-side to form a sort of make shift conference table. Within days, this office — right next door to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sacramento Bureau–will be the new headquarters for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political operation. Consultant Mike Murphy, who is living out of a downtown hotel through the November election, will work out of the office, as will new campaign manager Pat Cleary, communications director Rob Stutzman, Tom Campbell and other core members of the governor’s political team.

The team hopes bringing everyone under one roof will bring some semblance to a campaign that has appeared listless at times, and has been slow to come
together. Heading into the final two months, the operation on the fifth floor will be highly centralized. As they ramp up, they plan a series of carefully scripted “town hall meetings” beginning later this month to deliver Schwarzenegger’s basic message: “Vote for my ballot measures or I’ll be forced to raise taxes.”

Though there are separate committees for each of the three individual initiatives supported by the governor, most of the money is now being funneled through the governor’s California Recovery Team committee. Earlier decisions by the Fair Political Practices Commission kept the CRT out of the initial stages of the campaign, and the just now ramping up to full strength. The CRT will carry one consistent message. “It’s change vs. more of the same,” says campaign spokesman Todd Harris, who will be the mouthpiece for the campaign.”If you’re happy with the way things are, vote no. If you’re tired of the broken system,
and concerned with the specter of a tax increase, support the governor’s reform agenda.”

The strange part is that the governor and his opponents in organized labor will be running campaigns with a similar message: The governor is saying, “These three initiatives represent my agenda. Vote for them.” Labor and their allies, meanwhile, are betting on that same message resonating with the governor’s foes. Their message is, “These initiatives represent the governor’s agenda. Vote against them.”

The governor’s team is planning for a late, targeted TV campaign. They concede that Schwarzenegger has not been able to raise as much money as labor unions and his other opponents, who rolled out new campaign ads this week.

But signs of the campaign operation’s momentum are evident. Later this month, the governor will go into full battle mode, beginning to conduct the type of invite only “town hall” events that were a trademark of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Schwarzenegger also used the events to generate positive press during the 2003 recall campaign.

Meanwhile, the governor’s actions on the state side will begin to complement the governor’s political agenda.

This week, the governor began emphasizing the education portion of the budget he signed this summer. Another education-related event is planned today. The
governor will emphasize the $3 billion increase in education funding, in efforts to counter his political critics who say the governor short-changed the education
community this year.

The governor is supporting three initiatives–Propositions 74, 76 and 77–which together are being sold as the Schwarzenegger’s plan to reform California.
Those initiatives deal with teacher tenure, state spending, and redistricting respectively. Another measure, Proposition 75, would require labor unions to give written consent before their union dues could be used for political purposes. The governor has yet to take a formal position on the measure.

Much of the governor’s political team remains unchanged. Murphy will be the lead strategist; Jeff Randle and Rick Claussen will help with the political strategy as well. Don Sipple will make the ads for the campaign. Marty Wilson will be the chief fundraiser, and John McLaughlin will do the polling. All are veterans of past Schwarzenegger campaign efforts.

While the governor is running a centralized campaign, Democrats and labor unions are running a coordinated, but disparate campaign operation. The
umbrella group–the Alliance for a Better California–is driving much of the campaign strategy. But the initiatives each have their own separate campaign operations, including consultants, media mavens and strategists.

Consultant Gale Kaufman, who has been the lead consultant for the ABC, will serve as lead consultant for the campaigns against the teacher tenure and spending
control initiatives. She will also run the campaign for Proposition 80, which would re-regulate electricity markets in the state, though that measure is not expected to be as well-funded as the others.

Kaufman is also in charge of what the alliance calls the “anti-Arnold campaign,” which she describes as “the generic discussion against the governor’s plan.” That includes everything from TV spots to helping organize protests wherever the governor goes to raise money or make political appearances. Joe Nunez, the political director of the California Teachers Association, is also the head of the alliance, and is deeply involved in the alliance’s political decision making.

McNally/Temple Associates–a Republican firm that has sided with its top client, the prison guards union, over the Republican governor ‘d0will make the
TV spots for all of the Kaufman-led campaigns. The other big effort is the No on 75 campaign. That campaign will be led by Larry Grisolano out of Los Angeles. Ads for the No on 75 campaign hit the air this week. They were produced by Chicago consultant David Axelrod, who will make the ads for all of the campaigns run by Grisolano.

Grisolano is also running the campaign against the pharmaceutical industry’s prescription drug plan, Prop 78, and for Prop. 79, the drug plan supported by labor and some health care advocates.

But Democrats say there will be a comprehensive Vote No campaign as well, focused on taking on the governor’s entire initiative package. “I think people are going to see both,” said Sarah Leonard, who works with Grisolano, and is a spokeswoman for the No on 75 campaign. “People will see stuff from the individual campaigns and stuff from the Alliance. Part of this campaign will be explaining to voters that these are all part of the governor’s agenda.”

Outside of the Alliance campaign, a team is being assembled to defeat Proposition 77, which would take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature.

The No side is just now ramping up their campaign operation. Two veterans from Don Perata’s operation–Sandi Polka and Trent Hager–will help with campaign
strategy and fundraising respectively. The speaker’s fundraiser, Dan Weitzman, is also assisting in the effort. And Majority Leader Gloria Romero has loaned out Paul Hefner to serve as communications director for the campaign. Bill Carrick will make the ads for the No on 77 campaign.

The GOP consulting firm Meridian Pacific is running the campaign for Prop. 75. And though the campaign is a bit short of cash–as of last week, they had about
$70,000 in the bank–proponents hope the campaign could get $5 million to $8 million, still a far cry from the more than $20 million labor is expected to spend to defeat the initiative.

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