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The Reporters: US mid-terms

Matt Frei

Governator 2.0


Arnold Schwarzenegger has been rebooted by his advisers with results that should make other Republicans blush with envy. Six months ago it looked as if the Terminator would indeed terminate at the gubernatorial elections this November. He was languishing in the mid 30s in the approval poll ratings.

arnieclooney_203ap.jpgNow he has soared back into the upper 50s. In the musty library of the San Francisco University club I sat down with his key campaign guru Matthew Dowd to discuss the reversal of fortune. Two years ago the affable Mr Dowd helped to get George W Bush re-elected. Then it was all about mobilising the Christian right-wing base of the Grand Old Party and despatching them on a crusade to the polling booths.

Now the new mantra is to rediscover the fuzzy centre. "Americans hate this partisan bitterness, they hate extremes", Mr Dowd - who looks more like a pop producer than a political consultant and is also advising Sen John McCain - told me. "They feel more comfortable with leadership from the centre".

This is especially true in California, where Arnie has realised that he can't govern without the support of the majority voting block, which happens to be Democratic. Hence a $37bn grant for education, roads and other infrastructure projects, a state grant to conduct stem cell research and Kyoto-style caps on greenhouse gas emissions, which have impressed voters in California and upset GOP party hacks back in Washington.

"I always knew Arnie was a closet Democrat", one of them told me. "Look, he's married to Maria Shriver - a Kennedy - and he hired Susan Kennedy - no relation but a Democrat - to be his chief of staff."

If it were a country, California would have the world's sixth-biggest economy. So if Green is the new Red - I'm talking about the colour codes of American politics of course, where, somewhat confusingly for Brits, Red is the colour of the right - then Washington better take heed.

But it's not just a few hand-picked centrist policies that are making a difference. Like dozens of other Republican candidates, he has kept his distance from an increasingly toxic president. Two years ago he appeared on the stump for W in Ohio. Recently when Mr Bush was on a visit to California, Arnie shunned the commander-in-chief for a meeting with the other George making the headlines - George Clooney.

The governator has also learned to say the hardest word. He has shown contrition for his mistakes and it has worked. Mister Universe has become a "girly man", and much of touchy-feely California is impressed. As Mr Dowd put it to me with a twinkle of irony: "My recipe for success: I would get a politician to make one big mistake a week and then apologise for it."

Matt Frei is the BBC's senior North America TV correspondent.

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  • 1.
  • At 07:16 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

It's true--the Governor is no Republican and has disappointed Republicans with his pragmatic and sensible agenda of working with the Democrats. He is running against a Democrat who is unable to communicate with his consituency and who came out of the Democratic primaries with mud on his hands. As a Democrat, I can live with the Governor for another 4 years if he governs as he has during the last 2 years.

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  • 2.
  • At 07:53 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • tod wrote:

I am an independent in california. I found the process which brought Arny to power disgusting. Many of the things he did once he became governor were just plain wrong. I don't mean his remarks, which really don't bother me so much, but his proposals to hack the budget for emergency workers, teachers, nurses, etc. He then had a special election with a number of bad propositions on it costing the state millions and having none of them pass, fortunately. This seemed to me to be the exact kind of politics he was running against when elected.

However, it was refreshing to hear him say that he learned from that experience, that this was obviously a mistake on his part, and he took a new direction. He began working with democrats in the legislature to pass important environmental legislation. The environment is a key issue for me and for a lot of californians. I doubt that any democrat elected as governor would be able to go as far as Arny has on these issues because they would be labeled as heavy spending liberals and risk losing support from moderate republicans. In this way, as ridiculous as it seems, Schwartzenegger is the best option for unity in the state right now. Amazingly, I now find myself ready to re-elect him in a few weeks ...never would have thought that.

If you believe the republican party has gone astray and needs to be moved back to the center, Arny makes a good candidate because of the message his success will send to the rest of the party. If you are tired of politicians not being able to admit their mistakes and therefor not seem to learn from them, again Arny looks like a good candidate. There are substantive reasons to vote for "The Governator".

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  • 3.
  • At 08:34 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Justin Allen wrote:

California Democrats and Greens do appreciate Arnold's bipartisanship on the bond measures that stand to benefit many Californians, including the poor, and also provide much-needed infrastructure. However, the Governator still frustrates people like myself, who pay attention when he vetoes needed legislation such as one legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp (at the State level) - a rather libertarian move that would have put Arnolds claims as a fiscally conservative, but socially liberal moderate politician to the public's benefit. Arnold has balked at reforms to allow journalists access to California's prisons, a huge system in crisis. He doesn't really care for transparency and is not a progressive by any stretch.

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  • 4.
  • At 09:20 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Bob Mulholland wrote:

As a long time Democrat and opponent of Schwarzenegger let me remind people that Schwarzenegger is an actor ( not a good one, afterall he has never been nominated for an Oscar)so his latest behavior is just cheap acting. Judge a person on their behavior for 30 years (recently slashed school funding by billions because he thinks ExxonMobil pays too much in taxes)and not just 3 months before an election. Like an actor at the end of a play, Schwarzenegger will return after the Nov 7th elections to his mean old Republican self.If you believe otherwise I have a bridge in London to sell you. Bob Mulholland, Campaign Advisor, California Democratic Party

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  • 5.
  • At 07:19 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Duncan wrote:

Bob, people change careers all the time. Just because he was an actor does not mean he is good for nothing else. I think he has learned a great deal, freely admits his mistakes and works with everyone regardless of their party.

To be honest, he is a breath of free air in the disgusting stinky world of normal US politics. He is not perfect, but 10 times better than the norm.

His stance on the environment truly puts the Bush administration to shame. I hope he does get another 4 more years.

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  • 6.
  • At 08:01 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

Duncan, did you not read the last part of the article, where Dowd openly admits that his "recipe for success" is to get his client to make a big mistake then apologize in earnest the next week? I appreciate the recent moves he made, but that doens't excuse him for me. I'm still voting democrat.

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  • 7.
  • At 09:08 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Serenity wrote:

I agree with Bob on this one. I have lived in CA for forty years and strongly believe that ole Arnie is acting. I would like to believe he is sincere, yet reading what Dowd unabashedly revealed disgusted me and took any hope I previously had that Arnie is sincere in his recent actions and behavior. I too remember his harsh and heavy handed wish to cut the pay of the poorest workers in CA, take benifits from our most vulnerable, and severly limit our childrens education opportunities. A leopard may act like a kitten while being petted, but he can't change his spots. Arnie is a cut throat who cares nothing for anybody but his own advancement, and I will not soon forget it or fogive him for it. While there is nothing wrong with self advancement, there is when it is on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. Do they not count in this country? He has a great advisor and that advisor is paid well to get the job done. If CA is so silly as to fall for these antics then they deserve what they get. I am a liberal Republican and believe strongly in taking care of our own.

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  • 8.
  • At 09:59 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ezra wrote:

Brian, you may be voting Democrat but by doing so you are missing a huge point. Arnold has managed to bridge the great divide in the past year and has co-opted key Dem issues. He has truly stood as an independent when our airwaves and eardrums are filled to the max with partisan garbage. I for one, a lifelong Democrat will be proud to vote for Arnold as he has done more for the issues that I care about (greenhouse gases, stem cell reasearch) than any other elected official in America.

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  • 9.
  • At 05:04 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • JonnyB wrote:

As a left-leaning independent I was initally rooting for Huffington. But in the debates-she just got weirder and weirder. When the Governator began running his gameplan, it seemed he was going to just "terminate" everyone in his way. But the Terminator realized who programs him- we, the citizenry are his master- he is not master of the universe.
I have not voted Republican for 40 years but I would consider at least not voting for fast talking Phil. I still need more info though- for instance, are we running a surplus yet, or are we still in the post dotcom doldrums? It has been 5 years since 9-11 and most stock charts I have looked at have had good run-ups over that time so I would think the tax dollars are coming in to fund education, health care, etc.

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