- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Jubilant Republican strategists said yesterday that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election to the California governorship has given their party a huge boost going into the 2004 elections and will force Democrats to spend more to hold on to the state.

White House and Republican Party officials said Mr. Schwarzenegger’s victory in the heavily Democratic state was a successful political pre-election test of President Bush’s core campaign agenda of lower taxes, a more robust business climate and faster job creation. The agenda attracted surprisingly strong support from the Democrats’ core political base, with blacks, Hispanics and labor union members voting in large numbers to oust Gov. Gray Davis and replace him with the Republican movie star.

“This is a guy who wanted to eliminate some taxes, focused on job creation and wanted to create a more friendly business environment. This was a classic Republican agenda, and it appealed to many Democrats,” said Republican pollster David Winston.

“We got Democratic defections from several groups. If you combined the votes that went to Schwarzenegger and [his Republican rival] Sen. Tom McClintock, they got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and 51 percent of union households,” Mr. Winston said.

“The best case that comes out of this election is that President Bush wins California next year, and the worst case is that the Democrats are going to have to spend a significant amount of money to win a state they thought they had already won,” he said.

Republicans, still finding it hard to believe that they had ousted the Democratic governor from Sacramento, were confident that this was only the beginning of a new political shift in California that would help Mr. Bush carry the state in November next year.

“We need [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Terry McAuliffe to continue doing what he’s doing. His 2002 strategy was to just be against Bush. His 2003 strategy was to run against the right wing. In this election, Arnold and McClintock combined got 60 percent of the vote. Those are very optimistic results for the Republican Party in California,” said Republican campaign adviser Scott Reed.

For the Democrats, the loss of California’s politically powerful governorship, although they control both houses of the legislature, raised troubling questions about whether they were caught in a long downward political spiral of their own making that could continue next year.

“Nobody’s happy. Happy is not the word to describe any Democrat right now,” said Donna Brazile, who managed Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign for the White House.

Democrats conceded yesterday that several traditionally Democratic voters they count on to win elections broke ranks to vote Republican.

“This is another wake-up call for Democrats not to take their voting blocs, their traditionally Democratic constituencies, for granted, because if you don’t connect with these groups early on, the issues they care about — jobs and the economy — they are not going to vote for you,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, vice president of the New Democrat Network.

“Will the Democrats have to spend more money in California next year? Probably. They’re going to have to focus on it more than they had planned to ensure that it stays in the Democratic column,” said Ms. Cardona who is spearheading a party project to rebuild support among Hispanic voters.

Some Democrats privately complained about the party’s pre-election strategy, especially Mr. Davis’ decision to dismiss the recall petition as “a right-wing” plot backed by a tiny political fringe group. In actuality, about 500,000 Democrats voted to hold the recall election.

Others said their party’s leadership had moved too far to the left and needed to return to the political center.

Democrats “need to regain their centrist problem-solving reputation, and must absolutely reverse the recent perception that they don’t give a damn about anybody who doesn’t belong to a reliable Democratic constituency group,” the Democratic Leadership Council said in a statement on its Web site.

But DNC officials yesterday were playing down the significance of the Republican victory in the nation’s most populous state, denying that it would have any effect in the elections next year and pointing to Mr. Schwarzenegger’s liberal positions on social issues, such as abortion, homosexual rights and the environment.

“It seems like it was more of a personal than a political decision that was based more on the personalities of the candidates,” said DNC spokesman Tony Welch.

“California is a Democratic state and will remain so. Arnold proved that, because he ran on Democratic issues as a pro-choice and gay rights candidate,” he said.

“People wanted Davis out. This was the message. This was not about Democrats; this was all about Gray Davis,” Miss Brazile said.

But independent pollsters such as John Zogby said one of the major developments that came out of the recall election was the number of Democrats and independents who responded to Mr. Schwarzenegger’s campaign message on the economy, jobs and balancing the state’s $38 million budget deficit.

“Democrats ought to pay attention because the unthinkable has happened. Hispanics have crossed over in large numbers, 25 percent of Democrats voted against Davis, and 19 percent of African-Americans. Those are terrible numbers in a 50-50 nation,” Mr. Zogby said.

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