Monday, August 11, 2003

The race is on for governor of the Golden State. New polls show that 64 percent of Californians are prepared to recall Gov. Gray Davis, setting up the vote for his replacement. Last week, former President Bill Clinton — who, of course, almost lost his job when he was impeached — offered Mr. Davis advice on how to keep his own job, and the governor is expecting the Clintons to campaign for him. We are not convinced the former first couple will squander any political capital to embrace this dead man walking, and it probably wouldn’t matter even if they did. To put it mildly, Mr. Clinton has never had the Midas touch when it comes to helping other Democrats get elected. That, however, does not mean fellow Democrats aren’t coming out shooting.

Over the weekend, Bob Mulholland, the irksome spokesperson for California’s Democratic Party, put Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in the crosshairs. As first reported on the Drudge Report, Mr. Mulholland threatened that, “Schwarzenegger is going to find out, that unlike a Hollywood movie set, the bullets coming at him in this campaign are going to be real bullets.” In most cases, we would not worry about such language, which is obviously figurative and metaphorical. But in this circumstance, Mr. Mulholland’s predictable bad judgment is also in very poor taste. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, is a niece of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, who were both assassinated. Perhaps it is to be expected that Democratic operatives are inelegant while ducking for cover themselves.

According to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll published yesterday, Mr. Schwarzenegger is in a better position and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante worse off than we would have guessed. Apparently suffering from being No. 2 in the unpopular Davis administration, Mr. Bustamante is facing 55 percent of probable voters who say there is no chance or not much chance they’ll vote for him — a high 47 percent saying there’s no chance at all. A surprisingly high 68 percent say there’s a very good chance, a good chance or some chance they will vote for Mr. Schwarzenegger. The other worthwhile tidbit is the thin support and high negatives for Bill Simon, which underscore how sour Republicans still are over his incompetent gubernatorial campaign last year. Only 11 percent of probable voters said there was a very good or a good chance they would vote for him, while 53 percent said there was no chance at all.

It is too early to take poll numbers too seriously, as the unpredictability of the first-ever use of the state recall procedure means almost anything could happen. That said, early polls can be useful as a snapshot of current attitudes, and current numbers do reveal interesting surprises. On top of the list is the magnitude of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s dominance out of the gate.

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