DAVIS: LOSING IT?

San Jose Mercury News reports that a desperate Governor Gray Davis has a new strategy:

Hoping to win back wayward Democrats in the last days of the recall election, Gov. Gray Davis has begun to portray the race as a partisan, two-man contest between himself and Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As part of that strategy, the governor’s campaign is now publicly discounting Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a fellow Democrat on the replacement ballot, as a viable candidate.

“It’s a very complicated two-person race but it still comes down to whether Gray Davis stays or Arnold Schwarzenegger replaces him,” said Davis adviser Susan Kennedy.

Polls show that around 20 percent of Democrats plan to vote for the recall. To bring them back to the fold, the new message of the Davis campaign is that a vote for the recall amounts to a vote for Schwarzenegger, because Bustamante has no chance.

This, despite polls showing rather clearly that Bustamante is the candidate most likely to win.

He has also risen to his reputation as a sleazy campaigner, according to another report:

Displaying a new level of bitterness, Gov. Gray Davis lashed out at Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday in ads attacking the Republican as a candidate who “can’t get his facts straight” and “has no experience.”

The ad began running statewide hours after Davis issued a direct challenge to Schwarzenegger to debate while the governor’s supporters said the actor has displayed anti-woman values throughout his career.

With less than two weeks to go, Friday’s events were the most personal yet in the tumultuous recall campaign, as Davis accused Schwarzenegger of distorting his record and Republicans lambasted a “desperate” governor for relying on “puke politics.”

At a boisterous rally with 200 female activists, Davis said, “I’m not going to take it anymore,” and issued his debate challenge. Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards joined Davis at the event and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York called in.

Speaking to the crowd from New York, Clinton warned Californians not to be “stampeded by the same right-wingers who gave us the election in Florida.”

Strangely, he is simultaneously giving more ammunition to those who want to recall him with some rather questionable land deals:

Less than two weeks before the election that could end his political career, Gov. Gray Davis is rushing to approve nearly $300 million in deals for the state to buy land from developers who have given him more than $160,000 in political contributions.

The governor’s office praises the purchases as rare opportunities to preserve wetlands, a sprawling ranch and redwoods. And some environmentalists would like to see the deals sealed before a possible change in administrations.

Yet critics question whether the price for taxpayers is too high — Davis refuses to make appraisals of the properties public — and what role politics and campaign money are playing.

Meanwhile, all the Republican candidates who have dropped out have endorsed Schwarzenegger and urged Bill McClintock to concede as well, making it a two way race. So far, McClintock refuses to budge:

If state Sen. Tom McClintock costs the Republican Party a victory by staying in the recall race, he risks being branded a rare but infamous breed of politician: the spoiler.

The few true spoilers in political history usually have abandoned one of the two major parties and launched independent, protest candidacies. They have run with little hope of winning, but have siphoned enough votes from one of the major candidates to throw the election to the other.

But because of California’s wide-open recall ballot, McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, could find himself in a unique position among spoilers: costing his fellow Republicans the election while potentially dooming his future in the party he still calls his political home.

“If he plays the role of spoiler, it’s going to cause him some serious problems,” predicted California Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum. “There’s repercussions to this.”

McClintock vowed Thursday that he would not leave the race even as a growing GOP chorus embraced his party rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was endorsed by former Republican candidate Bill Simon and an overwhelming majority of the state’s GOP county chairs.

***

A poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California on Sunday illustrates the state GOP’s dilemma in California. McClintock received 14 percent, while Schwarzenegger got 26 percent and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the only major Democrat in the field, received 28 percent — a statistical tie.

If just a portion of McClintock’s support went to Schwarzenegger, the actor would overtake Bustamante, which is why party leaders have been pressing so hard in recent days to push McClintock out.

One would hope that, absent post-debate polls showing him to be a legitimate contender, McClintock would drop out. While he is clearly more in line with the Republican platform than Schwarzenegger, it is highly unlikely that he could win even if Schwarzenegger dropped out and enthusiastically supported him. While there are pockets of traditional conservatism in California, the days when a Ronald Reagan could win statewide office appear long over. While McClintock’s supporters would either grudgingly vote for Schwarzenegger or, at worst, stay home, many Schwarzenegger supporters would vote against the recall and/or for Bustamante rather than McClintock.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    There were reports on tv yesterday (I forget which program) that internal polling from the Bustamante and Schwarzenegger camps show Arnold actually ahead–and with Davis as much as 10 points behind. I take such reports with a grain of salt, but Davis’ behavior does seem to lend some credence to them.

    If anything, it seems to indicate that Davis thinks that he is going to lose, despite public protestations to the contrary.

  2. Paul says:

    Yeah, that is what I was going to mention… I’m 99.9% sure that was Tony Snow that had that. (If not Olbermann on MSNBC)

    Anyway they said the last public polls showed Davis down by 5 ish and Bustamante down by 3ish. But after the “non circus” debate (other than Huffington) David crated according to DEM polls. (down 10 -15 points) And Bustamante was down about 5 points as well.

    Arnold may not be the next “great communicator” but he was as credible as anyone and that is all most people needed.

    When you (they) could spin it as being a circus it was easier for people to be against the recall. Now that people realize it is like any other election with one or two real choices and some that just want to be on the ballot, it is turning into a regular election. That spells death for Davis.

    And as far as Davis running a dirty campaign, that is the only kind he has ever really known. I’m sorta surprised it took him this long. I do find it ironic though that he is basically throwing Cruz in the grease.

  3. Professor Kaos says:

    Others have noted that Davis’ call for debate proves his own internal polls show him losing to Arnold.

  4. Latest polls I’ve heard have Arnold on top. He may pull this out of the hat after all–despite McClintock’s stubbornness.

  5. PoliBlog says:

    ReCAL Round-Up
    As James of OTB notes in a worth-a-read round-up of the current status of the ReCal, Tom McClintock may end up damaging himself in terms of his lon-term political future if he stays in the race. His willingness to accept…