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Poll finds special ballot may backfire on governor
A majority of California voters are convinced Tuesday's special election is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's cynical attempt to grab more power and boost the fortunes of his political allies, a Field Poll released today shows.
Only 36 percent of registered voters surveyed say they believe the governor when he says the election is about his desire to bring needed reforms to California, while 51 percent say it's all about partisan politics.
"It's a totally cynical view of the governor, brought about by his support for an unpopular election,'' said Mark DiCamillo, the poll's director. The poll also shows concerns about the election are weighing down the governor's chances for re-election next year. By 55 percent to 36 percent, voters say they are not inclined to bring the former movie star back for a full, four-year term.
Voters' growing disgruntlement over the election, fed by months of TV attack ads from teachers, nurses and other labor groups, has completely flipped their feelings toward the governor. As recently as February, 56 percent of those surveyed said they expected to vote to re-elect Schwarzenegger, who won the office in the historic October 2003 recall election.
The 36 percent support for the governor's re-election is virtually rock bottom for a Republican incumbent, DiCamillo said.
"When you get to the mid-30s, your support is pretty much down to your base,'' he said. "The only way down to the 20s is when a substantial portion of your own party defects, and that hasn't happened.''
Nearly half of California's voters in the survey say the special election has made them less likely to back Schwarzenegger's re-election, compared with 29 percent who said the Nov. 8 balloting would boost their support for the governor.
More than half the likely voters view the election as bad for California, with 62 percent of those critics arguing it's a waste of money. Although it's not surprising that 68 percent of the Democrats are upset with the Republican governor's special election plans, nearly a third of the Republicans surveyed also have reservations.
"With a significant number of Republicans having problems with the special election, the whole election seems to be a mistake, in retrospect,'' DiCamillo said.
The upcoming election also has stripped away any semblance of bipartisan support for the governor. Among Democrats, only 13 percent say they're inclined to back Schwarzenegger for re-election, down from 28 percent in February. Among the key nonpartisan voters, support for the governor's re-election has skidded from 56 percent eight months ago to the current 34 percent.
The governor's political clout has shrunk right along with his popularity. A Field Poll released earlier this week showed the governor's four initiatives were opposed by voters, who were even less likely to support the measures when they knew Schwarzenegger was backing them.
"In 2004, when Schwarzenegger came out against changing 'three strikes,' it brought voters to the 'no' side,'' DiCamillo said. "He had credibility, not only with Republicans, but also with Democrats and independents.''
Although it's a year until the election for governor, Democratic candidates are getting a boost from Schwarzenegger's fading stature. In a head-to-head matchup, the poll showed state Treasurer Phil Angelides with 47 percent support to 41 percent for Schwarzenegger, while state Controller Steve Westly had 46 percent backing to 40 percent for the governor.
A pair of Democratic activists who haven't entered the governor's race also polled well against Schwarzenegger. Actors Rob Reiner and Warren Beatty were in statistical ties with the governor among voters surveyed. Both face uphill battles if they decide to get into the race, however, because 41 percent of the registered Democrats surveyed say they are not inclined to vote for Reiner, and 52 percent are not inclined to back Beatty in a race for the Democratic nomination.
"This may not be the time for another celebrity movie actor to move into politics,'' DiCamillo said.
The new poll also provided good news for Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Fifty-six percent of the state's registered voters back her for re-election, while 37 percent are inclined to vote against her. With no well-known Republicans making moves to challenge her next year, only Bill Mundell, a little-known Southern California businessman, has talked about getting into the race. In a head-to-head matchup, voters preferred Feinstein, 61 percent to 30 percent.
The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,450 registered voters, taken Oct. 18-30. The Democratic primary sample includes 305 registered Democrats and was taken between Oct. 18 and 24. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for all registered voters and plus or minus 6 percentage points for the Democratic primary sample.
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This Time, Schwarzenegger May Not Get a Hollywood Ending
The New York Times
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 6 - A startling change has come over California's larger-than-life governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as voters prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday for an unpopular statewide election. His television advertisements have taken on an uncharacteristic tone of humility. And ordinary people, no longer awed by his Olympian persona, are openly challenging him in public.
The four ballot measures Mr. Schwarzenegger supports are trailing in the polls, and his re-election prospects next year appear, for now, to be dimming. His approval ratings are in a tailspin, and his stage presence has been drained of much of its bombast and bluster.
At a televised forum here last week, with audience members picked to represent a cross-section of voters, several questioners interrupted Mr. Schwarzenegger and accused him of distorting facts to sell the four ballot measures, which are among eight up for a vote in an election ordered specially by the governor.
Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was explaining Proposition 75, a measure he favors that would require public-employee unions to receive the written permission of members before their dues could be used for political campaigns. Democrats and union leaders who oppose the proposition have called it a naked attempt to silence the unions' political voice. The governor says the proposition is about protecting workers' paychecks.
An audience member who gave his name as Chris Robeson and said he was a health care worker from Camarillo angrily cut the governor off. "That's just Rovian spin," Mr. Robeson said, referring to Karl Rove, the White House political guru. "That's fraudulent."
Such bald impertinence would have been unthinkable a year ago, when Mr. Schwarzenegger was riding high in the polls and rolling over the opposition. But political missteps and unending battles with Democrats in the California Legislature and the public-employee unions have taken their toll. The governor seems chastened for the first time in his public life.
He no longer refers to members of the Legislature as "girlie men" and does not talk about "kicking their butts" anymore. He does not even appear in many of the advertisements for his initiatives, letting others speak for him.
This weekend, as Mr. Schwarzenegger toured Southern California on a bus in a final pitch, he was hounded by opponents, including the actors Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, in a bus dubbed the Truth Squad.
One television advertisement in which Mr. Schwarzenegger does appear is particularly startling to those who have followed the arc of his career from champion bodybuilder to action movie star to Governator. He looks straight into the camera and reminds voters that they elected him to clean up state government and put California back on track.
Then he says: "I've had a lot to learn, and sometimes I learned the hard way. But my heart is in this, and I want to do right by you."
His humble approach appears intended to assuage election-weary voters who will go to the polls on Tuesday for the third time in 20 months to vote on proposed laws and constitutional amendments, doing for themselves what in most democracies is done by elected representatives.
In addition to deciding on the union dues measure, voters will determine who will draw legislative district boundaries, how much budget power to give the governor and whether to enact new rules governing the probationary period for new teachers.
Also on the ballot are measures on parental notification for teenagers seeking abortions and the regulation of electric utilities, and competing measures for discounts on prescription drugs.
The special election is a symptom of the partisan gridlock in Sacramento, where the Republican governor and the Democrat-dominated Legislature and its union backers agree on almost nothing.
The campaign has generated more than $225 million in campaign donations, most of them from unions and drug companies seeking to kill measures they disapprove of. The governor's campaign is financed chiefly by business interests, including real estate developers, technology executives, auto dealers, agribusinesses, insurance companies and Wal-Mart heirs.
The airwaves have been saturated with advertising for weeks. Mr. Schwarzenegger has been stumping the state nonstop for the past month, playing largely to small partisan crowds.
National political figures, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, have visited the state to urge voters to support or oppose the ballot measures. Mr. McCain accompanied Mr. Schwarzenegger on part of his bus tour on Saturday, speaking out in favor of Proposition 77, a plan to transfer redistricting power from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges.
The total price of the election, including the roughly $50 million cost of conducting the vote itself, is likely to top $300 million, an amount that 13 years ago could have financed an entire national presidential campaign.
Despite - or perhaps because of - the ceaseless advertising, voters appear only mildly interested in the election and inclined to defeat most if not all of the measures, according to polls released last week. Officials estimate that about 40 percent of eligible voters will show up.
"Have we got ballot fatigue?" asked Leon E. Panetta, the former Democratic California congressman and White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. "No kidding."
This campaign is Mr. Schwarzenegger's third statewide election since he won office in a wild recall election two years ago. He is following much the same script as in previous campaigns, a Hollywood-style melodrama pitting the self-styled people's governor against what he calls the union bosses and special interests.
He was successful the first time out, in March 2004, winning voter approval of two measures to address the state's budget deficit. A year ago, with the help of tens of millions of dollars from high-technology entrepreneurs, Hollywood personalities and medical research groups, Mr. Schwarzenegger was able to win approval for a $3 billion stem cell research institute.
In fall 2004 he also helped persuade voters to reject two initiatives that would have expanded Indian gambling in California and one to soften the state's tough three-strikes sentencing law.
But this time the governor's pitch does not appear to be working. All four initiatives Mr. Schwarzenegger has endorsed are trailing in public polls, although one is fairly close: a measure to increase to five years from two the probationary period before public school teachers can win union-protected tenure.
A poll by the independent Field Research Corporation of San Francisco found that the governor's call for a special election made voters less inclined to vote for his re-election next year. As of late October, only 36 percent of registered voters said they would support his re-election, the Field poll found. Fifty-five percent said they would not vote for him.
The governor's aides acknowledge that his popularity has plummeted in the past year, but they attribute it to a relentless drumbeat of negative advertising financed by his union foes.
"A $120 million smear campaign is going to have an impact against anybody," said Todd Harris, a senior Schwarzenegger adviser. He said the attacks would not deter Mr. Schwarzenegger from seeking re-election, nor would the governor be swayed if his initiatives were defeated on Tuesday.
"The worse we do, the more he'll want to run again," Mr. Harris said. "This is not a guy who goes out when he's down."
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Schwarzenegger heads for defeat on reform plans
Wed Nov 9, 2005
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was headed for defeat on Tuesday on his proposals for government reforms in a special off-year election he called in an attempt to flex his political muscles.
With about half the votes reported, Schwarzenegger trailed on all four of the initiatives he had championed, and four other measures also appeared heading for defeat.
Such a result would mean that the $300 million special election -- the most expensive in California history -- would not change public policy and could hurt the Republican governor a year ahead of his re-election bid.
Facing a slate of disappointing numbers, Schwarzenegger appeared before his supporters in Beverly Hills and pledged to work closely with Democratic leaders in Sacramento.
"I also recognize that we also need more bipartisan cooperation to make that all happen. And I promise that I will deliver that," he said. "The people of California are sick and tired of all the fighting and they are sick and tired of all those negative TV ads."
He said he would meet legislative leaders in the state capital on Thursday before a planned working visit to China.
"We are going to go and find common ground. We are going to talk about reforms," he said. "When I return from Asia then I will get down to business, oh yes, because there is much work to do."
Analysts say that working closely with Democrats, the state's dominant party, will prove key to the moderate Republican's political future.
As recently as Monday his aides predicted the governor win at least three of his four propositions.
Schwarzenegger was headed to clear defeat on two of the most substantive of his policy measures: Proposition 76, which would limit increases in state spending, and Proposition 77, which would take power to draw legislative districts away from legislators and give it to a panel of retired judges. Both trailed by wide margins.
His strongest showing came on Proposition 75, a bid to curb the influence of public-employee unions over state government by requiring union officials to seek permission from members before spending their dues on political causes.
But with more than half of the precincts reporting, the measure was trailing narrowly, with 50.1 percent against and many votes in liberal Los Angeles still to be counted. Schwarzenegger's endorsement of the measure had triggered a furious and sustained attack on the governor by the unions, who outspent him 2-1 in the campaign.
Schwarzenegger, who contributed more than $7 million of his own money to promote his ballot items, also campaigned for Proposition 74, which would require teachers to wait an additional three years before earning tenure. That measure was also trailing, with a 52.6 percent no vote.
Schwarzenegger has seen his approval ratings drop sharply in the past year in the face of furious attacks by his big labor foes.
Also on the ballot were an initiative that would require doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on girls under the age of 18, two measures regulating prescription drug prices, and Proposition 80, which would repeal provisions of 1996 electricity deregulation. The abortion measure was still close, although the other three items were all widely trailing.