- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger won big this week. The numbers — 55 percent in favor of removing Gov. Gray Davis and 48 percent in favor of replacing him with Mr. Schwarzenegger — reflect both the unpopularity of the outgoing career politician and the excitement generated by the incoming star. The outcome of the recall election would not have been possible without both factors, especially the latter. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s dynamic campaigning gave momentum to the recall that would not have developed had the mainstream alternatives been limited to Tom McClintock and Cruz Bustamante.

Change was in the air on the West Coast. Fifty percent more Californians voted in this special election than voted in the 2000 presidential contest. The exit-poll numbers offer some interesting prospects. In a state that has 1 million more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans, 62 percent of those who went to the polls two days ago voted Republican. This number should worry Democratic strategists, as it shows many Democratic voters crossed party lines to vote Republican — many for the first time. This is a behavioral trend no Democratic Party leader can relish.

It must be particularly alarming to state Democrats that any Republican is showing signs of nibbling into constituencies that traditionally are categorized as safe Democratic voting blocs. This week, despite fielding the state’s first Hispanic candidate for governor, the Democrats lost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon given that a Hollywood action hero was on the ballot, but it just as well could portend a Latino shift in status. In the future, they could be more of a swing vote than a predictable partisan bloc.

These dynamics could have implications in next year’s presidential election. Winning California is a necessary foundation for any Democratic blueprint for the White House. If the state is even plausibly in play, Democrats will have to allocate enormous resources to guarantee the electoral votes that represent one in seven Americans. Democratic money, energy and time spent to shore up California cannot be dedicated to the key battle to win Midwestern swing states.

The extent of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s potential impact on national politics largely depends on how he plays the cards he has been dealt. If he is seen to be taking California in a better direction, Republicans may well try to increase his role in national politics, especially for fund raising and campaigning in congressional districts. From roaming around the halls of Capitol Hill, we can report that rank-and-file elected Republican officials are excited about the possibility of having the Hollywood superstar-cum-governor stop by their districts for high-profile endorsements. One limitation will be time; the new governor undoubtedly will have his hands full filing his budget by the second week of January, and with the fights that will ensue. Our guess is that he won’t be able to hit the hustings until Easter at the earliest.

Exuberant Golden State Republicans have every right to be thrilled at this victory. Whether Gov. Schwarzenegger succeeds or not, California politics has been turned upside down. If he does succeed in fixing the mess of reactionary liberalism with sensible Republican policies, California may well go Republican above the gubernatorial level and change the mathematics of presidential electoral politics.

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