- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

A just-arrived Austrian immigrant boy was mesmerized by America’s stores. He spotted a crowd around one. “What’s going on?” he asked a stranger. “You’ll find out how things work here and you’ll prosper.” Edging closer, the boy saw a “Grand Opening” sign. Several blocks down, he spotted an even bigger crowd. A quick learner, he soon moved closer and saw a “Going out of business” sale. A go-getter, the boy within weeks borrowed money, bought merchandise and opened a store. He also went to a sign company. His store had two large signs. “Grand Opening” and “Going Out of Business.”

Could this be Tom McClintock’s story about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Mr. McClintock, a Republican state senator now running for governor, was too young to be in Youth for Reagan in 1966. That’s when Mr. Reagan defeated Democratic Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. But Mr. McClintock admires Ronald Reagan, so let’s start there. When Mr. Reagan ran, he planned his first campaign carefully with his advisers. When Arnold ran, he planned his first campaign with Arnold. Mr. Reagan’s acting career was long gone when he announced for governor. Arnold’s latest movie is still playing. And Terminator 3 is not your father’s movie about cutting taxes.

Real people want to know: Is generating excitement the same as generating votes?

Don’t be too quick to say to Arnold, “I knew Ronald Reagan. And you’re no Ronald Reagan.” Bite your tongue if Arnold becomes governor. He is impressive, engaging and driven. He is larger than life. He comes across as a nice guy. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps he began as an implausible candidate who has since failed to dispel doubts.

In all the past media hype, few pundits noted two obvious points: (a) Arnold began with a high unfavorable rating, and (b) Arnold’s unfavorable keeps growing. What’s the Gray Davis signature campaign? Trash the opponent. During last year’s gubernatorial race, Dick Riordan’s character was assassinated. Of course, Mr. Riordan’s campaign left him vulnerable. Bill Simon’s reputation was destroyed. Of course, Simon’s campaign left him undefined. But there has been no $10 million destruction derby to terminate the Terminator. What gives?

Back to Mr. Reagan. He never would have selected an entertainment venue (the “Tonight Show”) to announce. Sure, his “common sense for California’s problems” is no more specific than Arnold’s pronouncements. But Mr. Reagan’s core beliefs came across. Ask Reagan icon Lyn Nofizger. What’s more, Mr. Reagan never would have appointed Warren Buffett — to anything. Does Mr. Buffett really care a whit about Arnold? The second-richest guy is not dumb. He knew what he was doing when, 24 hours into his appointment, he dissed Proposition 13.

And Mr. Reagan presented at least the illusion of specifics. Like Arnold, he did not think numbers were important. But he did not say numbers were not important. Speaking about numbers, even if you don’t believe the latest Los Angeles Times poll showing Arnold with a 44 percent unfavorable rating, other polls show him at, well, 40 percent unfavorable. Those are numbers for the end of a race, not the beginning. If Arnold gets slimed, how far do his negatives yet climb?

Democratic Lt. Gov. Bustamante may yet Cruz in. But will African-Americans turn out for the politician who used the pejorative N-word? Jesse Jackson, Willie Brown, and Maxine Waters have cut their deals. Can they deliver the African America vote, which is probably over-represented in the Times survey?

Republican Peter Ueberroth runs as a nonpartisan. Like Gray Davis, Mr. Ueberroth opposed Proposition 187 (the 1994 measure to limit state benefits to illegal immigrants), and he now opposes Proposition 54 (Ward Connerly’s racial privacy measure). Mr. Ueberroth’s people insist he stays and will win. Besides, would getting Mr. Ueberroth out necessarily help Arnold?

Meanwhile, Bill Simon’s classy withdrawal from the race elevated: (a) Mr. Simon himself, and (b) Mr. McClintock. Mr. Simon came across well — as a statesman — in a videotaped announcement. It was carried widely, and Mr. Simon didn’t have to answer questions. As for Mr. McClintock, even the perception that Mr. Simon’s votes will shift to him will help. But if those votes don’t shift, the conventional wisdom calls for more Republican eggs in the Arnold basket.

After all, Mr. McClintock has a skeleton staff and little money. Against Goliath, this is David without a slingshot. Just as Mr. Simon waited for Mr. Riordan to falter in the 2002 Republican primary, Mr. McClintock now plays a waiting game. Will the final move be his? Could this 90-pound weakling throw sand in the bodybuilder’s face?

There’s not much time left for the straight-laced Mr. McClintock to load up on steroids.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and author of graduate textbooks on campaigns and media.

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