- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

California Gov. Gray Davis’ survival on the Oct. 7 recall ballot will require him to show humility and emotion, take the blame for the state’s problems, and debate his opponents, according to political strategists.

But that strategy is foreign to Mr. Davis to this point of his political career.

The man elected five times to state office and just re-elected to the governorship a year ago has never endeared himself to the voters, and followers of California politics say residents blame him for the state’s problems for that reason.

They say voters won’t give him the benefit of the doubt on the state’s energy crisis, the economy and the budget deficit — which is larger in California than all other states combined.

“To call him a cold fish is to insult seafood,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “Most politicians at the state and federal level have a core of support. Gray Davis doesn’t.”

Mr. Davis is viewed as too calculating a politician, said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at California State University Fullerton.

“What people ended up seeing about him is the political side,” he said. “They ended up thinking of him as mostly a politician. They never saw the emotion.”

Mr. Pitney said he also doesn’t expect to see humility from the embattled governor, whose latest approval numbers were in the low 20s.

“I don’t think he has the humble gene in his makeup,” Mr. Pitney said.

But Republican Pollster Frank Luntz said humility is exactly what Mr. Davis needs to display in the two months he has to campaign against his removal.

Mr. Luntz’s research showed 78 percent of voters believe the state is “pretty seriously off on the wrong track.”

His survey of 800 registered voters last month also found that 54 percent of those polled agreed that “when it comes to Gray Davis, I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more.” The survey has a sampling error of 3.5 percent.

“Voters appreciate politicians who admit making mistakes and they hate arrogance,” Mr. Luntz said. “He needs to come clean.”

The Democrats are standing by their man, who did win the support of voters in the Democrat-leaning state for stints as a state legislator, controller, lieutenant governor and two-term governor.

“I’ve known him for 30 years and seen a range of emotion — oftentimes very endearing,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. “Sometimes they aren’t easily transferable to the television screen or the soapbox.”

“Gray Davis is a victim of all these circumstances coming to a head at one point,” Mr. Torres said. “I don’t know how you change someone who has a certain personality.”

Mr. Davis has been successful in the past at attacking his Republican opponents. The prolific fund-raiser spent $10 million on negative campaigning to ensure liberal Republican Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, would not emerge from the state’s Republican primary in March 2002.

He has also begun to target Rep. Darrell Issa, the only Republican to formally declare his candidacy in the recall election.

University of California-Berkeley political scientist Jack Citrin said he expects to see the usual $40 million worth of attacks from Mr. Davis, and some political analysts speculate that the Davis campaign is using threats of attacks to deter Mr. Riordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger from declaring their candidacies.

Mr. Schwarzenegger is expected to announce his decision Wednesday. His wife, Maria Shriver, is reportedly afraid of tabloid coverage of her family. Mr. Riordan has said he would run only if the Austrian-born actor does not.

Republicans are hoping that a field of three or more major Republican contenders will allow at least one candidate to emerge relatively unscathed by the Davis camp.

“He can’t really run on his record,” Mr. Citrin said. “He will try and deflect the blame for the electricity crisis to energy companies and he will play the blame game — the economy is President Bush’s fault, the budget cuts are the Republicans’ fault.”

Ridiculing the Republican-led recall effort is one tactic Mr. Davis has taken to shift the discussion from his performance. Labeling it a right-wing hijacking of the state, Democrats are emphasizing the cost of the special October election.

With estimates of the cost ranging to $60 million, pollsters and analysts agree it is an issue that will resonate with the voters. It’s a number that gets people’s attention, and it hurts the already cash-strapped counties that must run the election.

According to Mr. Luntz’s polling, it is the top reason voters oppose the recall, but Mr. Pitney said the cost of the election “by itself won’t turn the tide, but it may work with voters who don’t know how to use a calculator.”

The high-end figure of $60 million would amount to 0.15 percent of the state $38 billion budget deficit.

Mr. Davis has been loath to debate his opponents. He and challenger Bill Simon only debated once during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign. The lone debate lasted only an hour and occurred in the morning, and was largely overlooked by the California public.

“Davis has got to turn the tables,” Mr Luntz said. “It is the blue flame of California politics. It is so hot that you almost don’t see it, but when you touch it, it burns you. That is the heat of anger in California.”

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