TV & Radio
The Wall Street Journal
California Underdog Battles Dazzle In Governor's Race,
Little-Known Angelides Faces Schwarzenegger's Star Power
By JIM CARLTON
October 17, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO -- To understand the uphill battle Democratic challenger Phil Angelides faces in California's gubernatorial race, consider NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Last week, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on Mr. Leno's talk show, where three years ago the actor announced his candidacy for governor. During last week's program, Mr. Schwarzenegger joked with his host and discussed how he had marshaled bipartisan support from California lawmakers. Campaign officials for Mr. Angelides tried to persuade NBC to give their candidate equal time. They failed.
"Schwarzenegger is essentially receiving for free a multimillion-dollar infomercial for his campaign four weeks prior to the election and as many Californians are casting their absentee ballots," says Amanda Crumley, a spokeswoman for Mr. Angelides.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Leno's show said Mr. Schwarzenegger's appearance fell under an exemption to federal equal-time laws that permits interviews of political candidates in the news.
The incident illustrates the obstacles Mr. Angelides must navigate in trying to send Mr. Schwarzenegger back to Hollywood. The Republican governor, who has the star power to attract thousands to campaign rallies, has seen his popularity soar after forging deals this year with the Democrat-dominated legislature on issues like fighting global warming and increasing the minimum wage.
The lopsided race also shows that, even in Democratic-leaning states like California, voters remain allergic to talk of tax increases. Mr. Angelides has endorsed some; Mr. Schwarzenegger has blasted him for that. As a result, Mr. Schwarzenegger's lead has widened to 17 points, according to a poll at the end of last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, a San Francisco think tank.
Just weeks before Election Day, Mr. Angelides has been shouting himself hoarse in a bid to gain some ground. On a two-day bus tour last week around California, many of Mr. Angelides's stops were at gatherings of about 100 to 200 people. At a rally in Stockton, the 53-year-old recalled how during the 1960s, he had come back to beat a rival during an under-12 tennis tournament there. Mr. Angelides shouted, "I'm gonna scrap, I'm gonna fight, and I'm gonna win this title for you!"
Mr. Angelides's conundrum isn't so much that California Democrats have changed, but that a Republican governor has figured out how to work with them. Legislative gridlock prevailed in Sacramento for much of the past two decades, with either Republican governors unable to work with a Democratic-controlled Legislature or Republican lawmakers in the minority blocking legislation. By going along with traditional Democratic issues -- without acceding to Democratic demands for more taxes -- Mr. Schwarzenegger has persuaded some Democrats to embrace him without alienating his Republican base.
One of California's most active Democrats is Mr. Angelides, who in two terms as state treasurer earned a reputation as a champion of corporate reform. After a debate between the candidates earlier this month, Mr. Angelides said he trounced the governor with his knowledge of issues and vision for California. In essence, Mr. Angelides wants to build up state programs to address a variety of ills, while Mr. Schwarzenegger has sought to foster change more through the free market.
But pundits credited Mr. Schwarzenegger with the best line of the night, when he asked Mr. Angelides -- whose low-key style contrasts with the governor's flashy presence -- to recount the funniest moment of the treasurer's campaign. "Every day is just a hoot," the Harvard-educated Mr. Angelides responded, apparently taken aback.
Later, in a campaign bus emblazoned with the slogan, "Always on Your Side," Mr. Angelides critiqued the governor's debate performance: "He said nothing, he knew nothing." And on Mr. Schwarzenegger's query about his funniest moment, Mr. Angelides observed: "What a ridiculous question."
One problem for Mr. Angelides is that he emerged weakened from a bruising June primary, in which he barely defeated Democratic state controller Steve Westly and then faced a barrage of attack ads from the Schwarzenegger campaign. Among the criticism: That he had despoiled the environment as a former real-estate developer and wants to raise taxes on the middle-class -- charges Mr. Angelides denies.
A proponent of raising certain taxes to help California's underprivileged, Mr. Angelides has been cast as a tax-and-spend liberal by Mr. Schwarzenegger -- creating an image problem that some of Mr. Angelides's friends say may be his campaign's biggest liability. The California Republican Party hired an actor to dress up as "the Tax Man" -- in black mask and green cape -- at Mr. Angelides's rallies, accompanied by a sidekick playing a recording of the Beatles's 1960s song "Taxman."
Mr. Angelides has explained that his tax plan targets not ordinary Californians but large corporations and rich individuals. "I wish he hadn't gone out with the tax proposal, because that's too easy to misconstrue," says Michael Meniktas, a financial adviser from Oakland, Calif., and a friend of Mr. Angelides in the Northern California Greek business community. Mr. Angelides, who grew up in Sacramento, is the grandson of Greek immigrants.
Mr. Angelides's toughest challenge has been taking on an incumbent with world-wide fame. "The biggest problem is name recognition," says Dave Parks, business representative for a Teamsters local in Modesto, where Mr. Angelides appeared at a breakfast of about 200 mostly union supporters during his bus tour. "Phil just isn't Arnold."
Mr. Angelides has borrowed tactics from former President Clinton, such as retaining former Clinton advance man, Ed Emerson, to whip up crowds before he addresses them. After leading a "Phil! Phil! Phil!" cheer at a small rally, Mr. Emerson says this job is different from when he was standing before tens of thousands at outdoor stadiums on the Clinton campaign trail.
Mr. Angelides says he knows it will be tough to topple Mr. Schwarzenegger. But he says he felt compelled to run after seeing moves by the governor to cut funding for education, increase college tuition and reduce pension benefits of public employees. Mr. Schwarzenegger denies those charges and says they have been misrepresented.
Mrs. Angelides's wife, Julie, admits her husband gets down sometimes. But to keep his spirits up, she says she and the couple's three daughters now follow some advice given to Mr. Angelides by Mr. Clinton and former Vice President Gore. "We try to hide the newspapers from him," she says.
Write to Jim Carlton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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