Tuesday, September 13, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week is expected to begin an aggressive campaign to reshape California politics and salvage a political career that once seemed indomitable.

With a series of high-profile appearances scheduled, Mr. Schwarzenegger is expected to announce his bid for re-election in November 2006. His fate may be decided far sooner, however, as voters this November consider a slate of proposals he has offered to literally redraw the political map in California.

First, Mr. Schwarzenegger wants to take the responsibility for drawing the state’s political districts away from self-interested politicians and give it to a panel of retired judges. He also wants to impose a strict limit on state spending and require midyear budget cuts if projected revenues fall short. Another reform would increase from two to five years the time required for public school teachers to earn tenure.

With a 34 percent approval rating, Mr. Schwarzenegger will battle well-funded unions and a Democratic opposition energized by the prospects of bringing down the star of the Republican Party. Just one year ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger was a big draw at the Republican National Convention in New York City, and his aides were envisioning campaigns to amend the U.S. Constitution so the Austrian-born, weight-lifter-turned-movie-actor-turned-governor could be president.

But now Mr. Schwarzenegger will have to engage in a fight that promises to be as fierce as anything he faced on the big screen.

“He has bet his governorship on these initiatives,” said Republican political strategist Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “He has pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table, and if these initiatives don’t pass, it is difficult to see him seeking another term.”

None of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s initiatives enjoy majority support among voters, according to an August poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. The spending-limit proposal, deemed the most critical by the governor’s aides, is supported by 28 percent of likely California voters and opposed by 61 percent.

But his supporters and some political analysts say it would be unwise to bet against the man known best as the Terminator, in part because his mentor, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, overcame even lower poll numbers to win a second term in 1994.

The governor already has weathered several months and millions of dollars of attacks by teachers unions and other opponents aimed at painting him as a mean-spirited enemy of public school teachers, firefighters and nurses.

“The Democrats are already declaring victory, and the governor hasn’t even started campaigning,” said state Sen. Dick Ackerman, the Republican leader.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s supporters are quick to point out that the governor’s second year in office has not been without successes. He ushered through a proposal to reform the state’s expensive and ineffectual corrections bureaucracy.

He got a budget approved by the Legislature quicker than any budget in the past five years, and it largely reflects priorities he outlined in January. Most notably, the budget doesn’t raise taxes, something Mr. Schwarzenegger has resisted for two years, despite deep budget deficits.

But opponents of his reform initiatives have gone to great lengths to fill their campaign coffers, with the California Teachers Association approving a $60 increase in union dues to raise an additional $50 million expressly to oppose the governor.

“We feel pretty good about where we are,” said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Better California. “People aren’t buying what he’s selling.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s advisers concede they cannot rely on his name alone to garner support for his reform initiatives. They say they intend to sell the initiatives to the people on the merits.

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