Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s candidacy for governor of California may stand or fall at the state party convention that begins today, four weeks before the Oct. 7 recall election.
Mr. Schwarzenegger, a social liberal, and state Sen. Tom McClintock, an across-the-board conservative, are the only major Republicans competing with Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he is recalled Oct. 7.
Polls show that Mr. Schwarzenegger, trailing Mr. Bustamante by a few percentage points, will pull ahead if Mr. McClintock withdraws, as did fellow Republican Peter Ueberroth, the chief organizer of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, earlier this week.
“Arnold can’t win without at least a slice of McClintock’s conservative support,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Michael Schroeder.
Republican political operative Kevin Spillane warned that if “McClintock doesn’t drop out, Republicans won’t take the governorship and the Republican party will be in the wilderness for the next decade.”
Mr. Schroeder said neither candidate has enough votes to bring a motion for endorsement to the convention floor.
The current state party chairman, Shawn Steel, is obliged to remain neutral. But Mr. Schroeder and three other previous state party chairmen, all conservatives, also have not aligned with either candidate.
But they are expected to endorse Mr. Schwarzenegger on Sunday, the last day of the convention, if by then he has gone further than he has in opposing tax increases of any kind. So far he has not engendered the affection of many conservatives.
“Schwarzenegger has run a pretty liberal campaign, in some respects to the left of Bustamante,” Mr. Schroeder said.
A large segment of rank-and-file conservative voters like Mr. McClintock’s policy views but haven’t endorsed him. They believe he lacks Mr. Schwarzenegger’s celebrity and personal appeal, and so is unlikely to defeat Mr. Bustamante in a state in which Democrats have a registration advantage.
Like the previous party chairmen, these ordinary conservative voters are willing to bite the bullet and go for Mr. Schwarzenegger despite his social liberalism, provided he satisfies them that he truly is a fiscal conservative, Mr. Schroeder said.
By Sunday these conservatives probably will make their decision and announce it at a press conference. Their message if they reject Mr. Schwarzenegger would be that a Bustamante win would be for them a fate no worse than a socially liberal Republican governor.
Pleas for Mr. McClintock to quit the contest have come from a variety of sources — the White House, working through surrogates in California; leading elected Republicans in the state; and the Schwarzenegger campaign. Mr. McClintock has stood fast.
“He wouldn’t respond to pressure, even from the White House,” said Mr. Spillane, who is not working for any gubernatorial campaign. “It’s not in his nature. He’s a maverick.”